Forest & Bird is proposing the establishment of a new protected zone for sea lions off the remote Auckland Islands, calling it a win-win for New Zealand sea lions and commercial squid fishing.
The organisation says the plan – which would see the creation of a temporary trawl-free area around the Auckland Islands – is based on satellite tracking data. This protection area would protect most breeding female sea lions and barely impact the trawl boats which can kill the animals.
NZ sea lions are one of the rarest sea lions in the world, with fewer than 12,000 individuals. At the main breeding location, the Auckland Islands, pup production has declined by approximately 55 percent since 1998.
Seven sea lions have been confirmed dead in trawl nets around the Auckland Islands this year, although the number is likely to be higher as not all dead or injured sea lions are seen and accounted for.
“Forest & Bird’s temporary sea lion protection area is based on research that shows most breeding females hunt within a limited area as they have to return to shore to feed their pups,” says Katrina Goddard, Forest & Bird Ocean Advocate.
“By making the most of their vital foraging grounds, we can reduce the risk to most of these mums and their dependent pups, while leaving 83 percent of the overall squid fishing area available to the trawl boats.”
The organisation has criticised Fisheries NZ’s three options for the squid trawl fishery, for allowing increasing options for sea lion deaths in trawl nets.
“None of Fisheries NZ’s proposals for managing the squid trawl fishery will save our precious sea lions. Fisheries bycatch is the most significant human threat to sea lions and the only one that can be actively managed, and we must try to bring it as close to zero as possible,” says Ms Goddard.
“Forest & Bird’s proposal is a win-win scenario for New Zealand sea lions and for the fishing industry. The sea lion protection area won’t have any impact on the squid trawl fishery, but will significantly help our sea lions.”