License to kill spells trouble for sea lions
Well it’s official. 113 is the new kill quota for our threatened New Zealand sea lions – a 40% increase on last year’s quota. Set by the new Minister of Fisheries Phil Heatley, the quota determines how many sea lions the Auckland Island squid fishery can kill in the 2009 fishing season.
Once prized for their blubber, New Zealand’s sea lion population was massively depleted in the 1800s due to hunting. Today their population stands at only 12,000 individuals, most of whom live around the remote offshore Sub-Antarctic Islands.
In 2008 the species was relisted by the IUCN on its Red List of species threatened with extinction recognising a 30% decline in pup births over the last decade.
Disease epidemics in 1998, 2002 and 2003 killed a huge number of sea lions. But these are thought to be natural events. Death in our fishing nets is not.
The Auckland Island squid trawl fishery is one of a number of fisheries operating around the Auckland Islands that kill sea lions. However, unlike other fisheries it is responsible for the majority of deaths because its operation lies within the feeding range of nursing and pregnant female sea lions.
Unborn pups follow the fate of their pregnant mothers, and pups left onshore starve, greatly increasing the death toll.
Diagram of a SLED
Sea lion exclusion devices, or SLEDs, were trialled in the squid trawl fishery in 2001. And despite limited information on their effectiveness, they are now used across most of the fleet. In theory, they sound very good but in practice sea lions are still being caught and killed every year and we still have no information on whether NZ sea lions survive once they exit from the SLEDs.
The Minister claims he made a conservative decision. In the face of the available information however, does a 40 per cent hike in the sea lion kill quota really constitute conservatism?
Picture sourced from the Endangered Species Research Journal
To find out how many sea-lions have been killed this season (08-09) click here.