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Draft Squid 6T Operational Plan

Update – 22 November 2019

Minister announces decisions on Squid 6T Operational Plan

The Minister of Fisheries has made decisions on the management settings for the Squid 6T Operational Plan for the next 4 years.

The decisions are based on best available scientific evidence along with feedback from tangata whenua, stakeholders, and the community.

The minister's decision letter provides the details of, and reasons for, each of his decisions.

Decision documents

Minister’s decision letter [PDF, 145 KB]

Decision document [PDF, 2.2 MB]

The Decision document has been proactively released. Parts of it have been redacted because some information would not be appropriate to release. The maps on pages 25 and 27 including data on catch and fishing effort at a higher spatial resolution than the current data guidelines allow for public release. Modified maps that show the same general information but at a lower spatial resolution are provided in appendix 2.

Squid 6T Operational Plan 2019-2023 [PDF, 455 KB]

Submissions received during the consultation

Submissions [PDF, 5.3 MB]

Submissions closed at 5pm on 20 September 2019.

Consultation background

New Zealand sea lions are part of our heritage, and we want to make sure they are around for future generations. Once abundant throughout the country, they were hunted in the 1800s to near extinction, but have recovered to a point where they are now classified as Nationally Vulnerable.

There are a range of threats to sea lions including disease, environmental fluctuation, and fishing. We're working together with the Department of Conservation on implementing a long term plan - called the New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka Threat Management Plan to address these threats.

There remain a range of threats to sea lions outside of fishing including disease and environmental factors. However, there is some cause for cautious optimism. The evidence is telling us the measures in place to manage fishing impacts are effective. We need to make sure that continues.

Auckland Islands female sea lion population over time

One of the key breeding sites is around the subantarctic Auckland Islands, which is also where commercial fishing vessels operate each year looking to harvest squid. This fishery brought home some $56.6 million export revenue to New Zealand last year.

We keep a close eye on this fishery, called Squid 6T, so that any impact on sea lions from fishing is minimised. This year 95% of all fishing effort has been monitored by on-board Fisheries New Zealand observers.

In addition, all vessels operating in the area use Sea Lion Exclusion Devices or SLEDs in their trawl nets. These work by allowing most sea lions that swim into the net to escape.

SLEDs net infographic animation

We have seen encouraging results from the use of SLEDs, but there have historically been some question marks over how effective they have been at ensuring sea lions survive. In particular it has been difficult to account for the sea lions that may have escaped trawl nets through SLEDs but might have died as a result of being in the net or any that drowned in the net and may have fallen out.

Fisheries New Zealand conducted a comprehensive research programme to get to the bottom of this issue, to allow us to estimate the effectiveness of SLEDs with more confidence.

As a result we not only know that SLEDs allow the majority of sea lions to escape and survive, but we can characterise what might happen to a sea lion that swims into a trawl net.

Approximately 20 sea lions swim into trawl nets each year.

Midwater trawl infographic

Our scientific models estimate that a sea lion that encounters a fishing vessel is more likely to go into a midwater net than a bottom trawl net, but also that once a sea lion goes into the net it is more likely to exit a midwater net and survive. For this reason, the estimated effectiveness of the SLED is higher for midwater nets, but the overall risk to sea lions is almost equal between the 2 fishing methods.

The research shows that for every 3 that are observed captured, we estimate a fourth sea lion died that wasn't able to be seen.

From this information, we know that fishing in SQU6T is having a very low impact on the sea lion population – over the last 5 years, it is estimated that fewer than four sea lions were killed in this fishery each year on average which is estimated to be having less than a 1.5% impact on the population in the long term.

Bottom trawl infographic

Estimated annual sea lion deaths and fishing effort diagram

Of course, we would be happy if there were no sea lions being caught by fishing vessels. All food production, whether on land or at sea, has an impact on the environment. In this case, our job is to strike the right balance between food production and the impact fishing can have on sea lions. If we know fishing is having too big of an impact on the population, the Minister will take action, including closing the fishery. We wanted your help finding the right balance to manage this fishery.

We sought people's views on:

  • making the use of SLEDs mandatory across the fishery
  • setting a minimum observer coverage target of 90%
  • putting a limit on the number of sea lions that can be accidentally caught in the fishery before it is automatically shut down. There are 3 options in the paper which equates to a 2.5%, 5% or 10% impact on the sea lion population.

Consultation document

What was proposed?

Interactions between New Zealand sea lions and the squid fishery around the Auckland Islands are managed through the Squid 6T Operational Plan, which sets out a range of measures to avoid, remedy, or mitigate the effect of fishing-related mortality on the New Zealand sea lion population.

The primary regulatory measure in the Squid 6T Operational Plan is a fishing-related mortality limit which is the maximum number of sea lion mortalities that may occur in the fishery annually. Should the limit be reached, the fishery is closed immediately.

Fisheries New Zealand proposed a new, more direct, approach to monitor against the mortality limit based on observed sea lion captures. This was made possible by new research which better quantified and reflected the uncertainty in the level of interactions of sea lions with squid fishing and the effectiveness of SLEDs.

Full details were in the consultation document.

More information

Note: The fishing effort and grid information is the same format as displayed for figure A3-3 of AEBR 224 ‘Spatial Assessment of Fisheries Risk for New Zealand sea lions at the Auckland Islands.’ This data has been extracted and formatted by Fisheries New Zealand, and as such may not match exactly with the data analyses and grooming that may occur as part of the PRO2017-10 project. Also AEBR 224 did not include 2017/18 fishing data.

Submissions are public information

Note, that any submission you make becomes public information. People can ask for copies of submissions under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). The OIA says we have to make submissions available unless we have good reasons for withholding them.  That is explained in sections 6 and 9 of the OIA.

Tell us if you think there are grounds to withhold specific information in your submission. Reasons might include that it's commercially sensitive or it's personal information. However, any decision MPI makes to withhold information can be reviewed by the Ombudsman, who may tell us to release it.

MPI may post all or parts of any written submission on its website. We'll consider that you have consented to its publication, unless clearly stated otherwise in your submission.