Endangered sea lions bound for extinction under fishing plan

Press Release – Forest and Bird

Forest & Bird said Friday the public interest and care being given to a sea lion and her pup in Dunedin highlights how important the endangered sea lions are to New Zealanders – and the need to halt their slide toward extinction.Friday January 20, 2012 – Wellington Forest & Bird media release for immediate use Endangered sea lions bound for extinction under fishing plans Forest & Bird said Friday the public interest and care being given to a sea lion and her pup in Dunedin highlights how important the endangered sea lions are to New Zealanders – and the need to halt their slide toward extinction.

An endangered New Zealand sea lion and its pup have drawn many visitors to Tomahawk Beach in Dunedin and the Department of Conservation has put up a temporary fence around the pair, with volunteers keeping watch to ensure they are not harmed.

The attention being given to the pair underlines how much New Zealanders and visitors value the critically endangered species. Sea lions only occasionally appear on the mainland, usually on Otago and Southland beaches, Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Katrina Subedar said.

“It’s lovely to see how much Otago people value these native animals, but at the same time people are flocking to see the few sea lions that visit our mainland shores, the main breeding population in the Auckland Islands is heading towards extinction,” she said.

The government is planning to remove squid fishing restrictions designed to reduce deaths of sea lions in the Sub-Antarctic islands as a new fishing season gets underway on February 1, she said.

“If we can’t protect this population in the Sub-Antarctic Islands, eventually we won’t see them anymore on the mainland or anywhere else.” Recent research done by Department of Conservation scientist Dr Louise Chilvers found if current trends continue, New Zealand sea lions will be all but extinct by 2035.

The numbers of New Zealand sea lions have plummeted 50 percent over the last 12 years and research indicates the main cause for the decline is the sub-Antarctic squid fishery. Such a swift decline in a long-lived slow-breeding species is not sustainable.

Until now, the government has imposed a limit on the number of sea lions that may be killed by the squid fishery. If this number is exceeded, the fishery is closed down for the season. The current plan, despite the research predicting the extinction of sea lions, removes any limit on sea lion by-kill.

“The sea lion is listed in the same threat category as a Maui’s dolphin or a kakapo,” Katrina Subedar said.

“We wouldn’t allow hunting that caused the deaths of kakapo, so it is shocking that the government is poised to allow this native species to be driven into extinction in our lifetimes.”

“It’s important that as many New Zealanders as possible sign Forest & Bird’s online petition or write to Primary Industries Minister David Carter before the end of this month to tell him we have to work harder to save our sea lions, she said.

ENDS

Background: The Sub-Antarctic squid fishery overlaps with the breeding and feeding area of sea lions living in the Auckland Islands. Squid is one of the main food sources for sea lions, which are sometimes killed in the squid nets, and the reduction of available food caused by fishing is also likely to be harming the population. The Ministry of Fisheries claims the use of sea lion exclusion devices, which are fitted to trawl nets with the aim of allowing the animals to exit the nets, means there is no longer any need to set a limit on the number of sea lion deaths. But the ministry has provided no evidence the devices are working as intended and overseas research suggests they could cause fatal injuries to marine mammals.

The latest Sub-Antarctic squid fishing season starts on February 1 and the government is due to soon announce its final decision on whether the limit on sea lion deaths will be removed.

Forest & Bird has asked the government to progressively reduce to zero the limit on the number of sea lions that can be killed by the fishing industry. This could easily be done by replacing trawl nets with safer fishing methods such as jigging.

The government also needs to adopt a management programme which would outline the steps needed to increase the number of New Zealand sea lions to levels that would make them safe from the threat of extinction.

Forest & Bird’s online New Zealand sea lion petition can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/84brzze

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