Fisheries New Zealand wants feedback on its proposals to manage the Auckland Island squid fishery to protect the local sea lion population.
Sea lions were once abundant throughout the country, but were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s. While the population recovered, they are still classified as Nationally Vulnerable, says director of fisheries management, Stuart Anderson.
"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.
"We've undertaken a science programme which has confirmed that tools used to allow sea lions to escape from fishing nets, called Sea Lion Exclusion Devices, or SLEDs, have significantly reduced the threat from fishing.
"In a nutshell these devices allow sea lions that swim into trawl nets to escape. They are in place on all vessels operating in the fishery, and one of the reasons we know they are being effective is that we closely monitor the fishery - over the past 5 years government observers have observed an average of 85% of all fishing events."
"In the 10 years from 1992 when there were mostly no SLEDs in use in the Auckland Islands, fishing caused an estimated average of 76 deaths per year. Since the introduction of SLEDs on all vessels in the fishery in 2007, that number is down to 8 per year."
The options include proposals on:
- the maximum impact fishing can have on the sea lion population before the fishery is closed for the season
- the proportion of fishing trips that are required to have a government observer on board
- rules around the use of sea lion exclusion devices to ensure that if a sea lion does enter a trawl net that it has the best possible chance of escaping and surviving.
"Sea lions are a taonga species, and we know there will be a lot of views about the best ways to make sure they are properly protected.
"All food production, whether on land or at sea, is about striking the right balance between food production and impact on the environment. Your feedback will help to set the right balance so that fishing impacts do not affect the sea lion population, and allow it to keep recovering.
"These proposals are designed to ensure that if fishing reaches the point that it is having too big of an impact, we can quickly take action – and this includes closing the fishery during a season. We encourage everyone with an interest in these precious marine mammals to have their say."
There are a range of non-fishing related threats to sea lions, including disease and environmental conditions. Fisheries New Zealand is working alongside DoC to implement a long-term plan to address these threats.