Auckland Islands squid fishing season winding down
22 July 2009
This year’s Auckland Islands squid fishery is drawing to a close with most fishing vessels having left the area the Ministry of Fisheries has announced today.
The squid fishery around the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands (SQU6T) starts in February and generally finishes in May, or when the fishing-related mortality limit for sea lions is reached.
“This year the squid fishing season has lasted longer than normal due to unusually large numbers of squid in the area” Ministry of Fisheries Chief Executive Wayne McNee said.
Squid is one of New Zealand’s most valuable seafood exports, bringing in over $71 million in export earnings in 2008.
New Zealand sea lions eat squid and are at risk of drowning when they chase squid into trawl nets. To manage this, each year the Minister of Fisheries sets a fishing-related mortality limit (FRML), a maximum allowable number of sea lion deaths. This is a conservative limit that ensures the sea lion population will not be compromised by commercial fishing.
This year the FRML was set at 113 and then voluntarily reduced to 95 by the fishing industry when the latest information on pup numbers became available. This year the fishery has resulted in 72 assumed accidental deaths.
The assumed mortalities is a figure calculated from the number of trawls fishing vessels carry out and is not the number of sea lions observed killed.
“Four sea lions have been reported as accidentally killed by fishing vessels this season, two from vessels carrying a Ministry of Fisheries observer and two from unobserved vessels” Mr. McNee said.
This season’s current figure of four deaths comes from over 1900 individual trawls. Last season there were five reported accidental deaths from 1250 trawls.
“No one wants to see sea lions being harmed or killed. It is very pleasing to see fewer sea lions being reported caught this season. I encourage the industry to keep working with government to develop lasting solutions to this problem” Mr. McNee said.
"Numbers of actual observed sea lion captures have been steadily declining in recent years which is good news. This is a result of the joint commitment and high level of co-operation between the fishing industry and the Ministry of Fisheries particularly in the use of fishing gear that allow sea lions to escape from nets” said George Clement, CEO of the Deepwater Group on behalf of squid fishery operators.
The fishing industry has improved their methods for reducing the bycatch of sea lions and all vessels operating in the fishery are using an approved sea lion exclusion device (SLED) that allows sea lions to escape from trawl nets if the swim inside.
The SLEDs were all audited before the season started to ensure they had been fitted correctly before the squid boats sailed. Ongoing inspections were carried out by Ministry of Fisheries staff over the course of the season to ensure the SLEDs were being used correctly and had not become damaged in any way.
The government places observers onboard a large number of fishing vessels in the SQU6T fishery. The observers are tasked with watching the vessel’s fishing activity, reporting any accidental captures of animals like sea lions and sea birds, checking that vessels are complying with regulated bycatch mitigation measures and gathering scientific data.