Forest & Bird condemns 40% rise in sea lion quota

Forest & Bird is shocked that squid fishers will be allowed to kill 40 per cent more threatened New Zealand sea lions in the coming season.

New Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley announced today that the number of sea lions allowed to be killed in the squid fishery this season has been raised from 81 last year to 113.

“The kill quota should be zero,” Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Kirstie Knowles says. “Sea lion populations are small and are declining, and we should be doing everything we can to protect all sea lions.”

The rise in the kill quota is despite the elevated threat status of the sea lions, which are found only in New Zealand waters. They have been classified as a threatened species since 1997, and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) this year elevated their threat status by listing them as being in decline.

“Forest & Bird is very disappointed with the decision because the scientific assessment this year shows that the maximum limit that the Minister could have set should be half last year’s,” Kirstie Knowles says.

Given that about 82 per cent of sea lions killed in trawl nets are female, and highly likely to be pregnant and have a pup on shore, this equates to three sea lion deaths: the mother, its unborn pup and the pup that starves to death on shore.

Forest & Bird is concerned about the discount rate squid fishers get if they use sea lion exclusion devices (SLEDs), which have an escape hatch for sea lions that get caught in trawl nets. The discount rate means the fishers are allowed to catch more sea lions in their nets without penalty.

“There should be no discount rate for SLEDs because, despite years of work on these devices, there is still no evidence that sea lions survive once they get out of the net,” Kirstie Knowles says.

Forest & Bird wants the squid fishery to stop using indiscriminate trawl nets and try alternative fishing methods, such as jigging, that don’t harm sea lions, or fish away from the Sub-Antarctic waters where sea lions feed.

”Forest & Bird would also like to see more Ministry of Fisheries observers on squid boats. It’s a strange coincidence that the only sea lions reported being caught in nets last season were from boats that official observers on board.

“It is almost certain that boats without observers are deliberately not reporting sea lion captures.”

Forest & Bird – New Zealand’s largest independent conservation organisation, with 40,000 members – has been asking new Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley to reduce the sea lion quota since he took office.