WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- The 55% mid-season increase in the number of NZ sea lions that the squid fishing industry will be allowed to kill this season is unjustified, Forest & Bird said today.
"There is no new scientific evidence to justify the Minister's 55% increase in the annual NZ sea lion 'kill quota' from 97 to 150 animals," said Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell. "In fact the latest NZ sea lion population estimates are the second lowest in ten years and last season's pup production was 15% down on the previous two years."
"The theoretical population model being used by Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton to justify this increase is flawed. For example, it has failed to predict the documented decline in sea lion pup productivity recorded in recent years," said Mr Hackwell.
"The NZ sea lion death toll could instead be dramatically reduced to near zero by applying alternative fishing methods such as using jiggers with bright lights," he said.
"Forest & Bird understands the Minister received more than 1200 submissions opposing any increase in the NZ sea lion 'kill quota'. In contrast, very few are likely to have been made in support of increasing the 'kill quota', he said.
"Forest and Bird is deeply concerned that Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton has set a precedent," Mr Hackwell said. "This mid-season increase in the 'kill quota' gives the squid fishing industry the message that threatened NZ sea lions are expendable if there are more squid to be caught. On this basis there is no incentive for the squid fishers to improve their techniques or use different fishing methods which avoid killing sea lions. In fact it does quite the opposite."
"Jigging offers a safer alternative and is used successfully in the Falkland Islands," he said. "It would also result in better quality squid being brought to market because trawling does more damage to the squid caught."
"Because over half of the sea lions killed each season are pregnant females, their pups on land and the fertilised embryo of next year's pup also die."
The New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) is the only endemic NZ pinniped and is listed as a Vulnerable species on the 2004 IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Species Threatened with Extinction.
Over 2,000 NZ sea lions have been killed in the Auckland Islands squid fishery since 1980.
Each year for the past eleven years the Minister of Fisheries has set a 'kill quota' for the number of NZ sea lions the squid fishing industry is allowed to drown in its fishing nets. The first kill quota set in 1994 was 16 protected New Zealand sea lions. In 2003 the quota was set at 62, however the fishing industry took legal action to permit increased sea lion killing. As a result, the final number of protected New Zealand sea lions killed in 2003 was 144.
This year's squid catch is likely to have already been well above the average for the past 18 years. The median catch for the fishery between 1987 and 2004 was just under 11,000 tonnes, which is equivalent to 33% of the long-term average total allowable catch for the same period. It is predicted that this year's catch to the end of March would be 57% (around 18,000 tonnes) of the total allowable catch when the sea lion 'kill quota' limit of 97 was reached. This means that this year's catch will be one of the 'best' on record.
Jigging involves the use of small continuous-loop hooked lines which do not pose the same risk to non-target species as trawl nets.
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