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Changes to Sea lion protections in Auckland Islands

Press Release – Fisheries New Zealand

Fishing rule changes to reduce threats to sea lions in the subantarctic Auckland Islands squid fishery have been decided.

Changes to Sea lion protections in Auckland Islands

Friday 22 November 2019

Fishing rule changes to reduce threats to sea lions in the subantarctic Auckland Islands squid fishery have been decided.

New Zealand sea lions are a national taonga. They were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s, but have been recovering since hunting was prohibited. Their threat classification has recently been upgraded from Nationally Critical to Nationally Vulnerable to reflect signs of population recovery, says Fisheries New Zealand Director of Fisheries Management, Stuart Anderson.

“Commercial fishing in the Auckland Islands squid fishery (Squid 6T) is one of the threats to these sea lions. However, the best available evidence is telling us that equipment used to allow sea lions to escape from fishing nets, called Sea Lion Exclusion Devices, or SLEDs, are working.

“All vessels in the fishery voluntarily use SLEDs, but as part of new changes to the fishery’s operational plan, this equipment will now be mandatory.

“In addition, Fisheries New Zealand will maximise the level of observer coverage in the fishery. This will mean that a minimum of 90 percent of all fishing activity in the fishery will have direct oversight from an onboard Government observer.

“The evidence shows that the impact of fishing peaked in the 1990s, and it is now having a much lower impact. Over the last five years, it is estimated that on average fewer than four sea lions were killed in this fishery each year, which is estimated at less than a 1.5 percent impact on the population in the long term. The most recent estimate of the total population of sea lions is 11,800.

“As a precautionary measure, an annual limit will be set to the amount of impact fishing can have before the fishery is automatically closed. That limit – which is a backstop only – is a five percent impact on the population in the long term, which is calculated to be 52 sea lions.

“While the precautionary limit gives us power to close the fishery immediately in a worst case scenario, we constantly monitor the fishery and will take action sooner if we need to. We will review these rules if new information becomes available that shows fishing is having a different impact on the sea lion population than scientists currently estimate, or if there are significant new concerns about the sea lion population.

“These decisions focus on fishing’s impacts on the sea lion population, but there are a number of other threats to sea lions, including disease and environmental conditions. Fisheries New Zealand will continue to work alongside DoC on the long term plan to address these threats.”

The Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash, decided on the changes following a public consultation and support and advice from the Squid 6T Technical Advisory Group.

The new measures will be in effect as part of the Squid 6T Operational Plan over the next four fishing years, from 2019/20 to 2022/23.

The requirement for mandatory SLED use will come into effect in October 2020. The other changes, including increased observer coverage and the precautionary closure limit will take effect immediately.

For more information, visit our website or call the Fisheries New Zealand media phone: 029 894 0328.
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