The New Zealand sea lion, endemic to New Zealand, were listed as ‘nationally critical’ by the Department of Conservation under the New Zealand Threat Classification system in 2010. Over 95 percent of the breeding population of this species occurs on two small breeding sites in the Auckland Islands, in New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic zone.
The foraging range of New Zealand sea lions that inhabit the Auckland Islands overlaps the fishing grounds of the southern squid trawl fishery (SQU6T) and can lead to the accidental capture of sea lions in trawl nets.
CURRENT FISHERIES MANAGEMENT
To reduce the level of fishing related mortality, sea lion exclusion devices (SLEDs) were introduced to squid trawls operating around the Auckland Islands from around 2000. These devices were standardised and have been used by all vessels operating in SQU6T since 2003/04. Fishing effort in SQU6T is limited through a fishing-related mortality limit (FRML) which is administered, along with a range of other management tools, through the SQU6T Operational Plan.
The latest research suggests that the current level of captures in SQU6T, also termed “the direct effects of fishing” would not in itself cause the rate of decline in pup production that has been observed at the Auckland Islands.
DEVELOPMENT OF A THREAT MANAGEMENT PLAN (TMP)
There appears to be a complex interaction of threats causing the decline and we need to understand the system so that we can design effective interventions. We also need to understand what we can do that can turn the situation around so that New Zealand sea lions thrive once more.
In March this year the Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith, and the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, announced their intention to develop a Threat Management Plan (TMP) which will look at all possible threats to New Zealand Sea Lions.
A Threat Management Plan (TMP) for New Zealand sea lions is being developed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). The TMP is needed because New Zealand’s sea lion population is declining and the reasons for their decline are unclear. The plan will review all threats to sea lions and explore measures to ensure their survival.
Engagement opportunities will be provided to stakeholders throughout the development of the TMP. MPI and DOC will work through already established groups and forums (such as the Aquatic Environment Working Group, CSP Technical Working Group, and Environmental Engagement Forum), and through agency websites to ensure communication on the development of the TMP is upheld.
Over the next 18 months more information about the TMP for New Zealand sea lions will be released. Stay up to date by checking DOC's information on the New Zealand sea lion Threat Management Plan.