Give endangered sea lions as much protection as possible, or risk losing more to fisheries-related deaths each year. That’s the idea behind a recent policy submission on sea lion protection and management.

Endangered New Zealand sea lions (rāpoka or whakahao) have long been treasured as taonga by tangata whenua, and revered for their ecological significance. Sadly, their numbers are in decline, and there is an urgent need to reduce the death toll due to fishing.

Our Seas Our Future (OSOF) welcomed the opportunity to have its voice heard on this issue by contributing to the Government’s review of the Southern Squid Trawl Fishery (SQU 6T) Operational Plan.

OSOF endorsed the Operational Plan option that would provide the highest level of protection. This would see the fishery temporarily shut down after 24 total sea lion deaths, or 12 female sea lion deaths, in one fishing season. OSOF supports the commitment to addressing the alarming decline in sea lion pup numbers, influenced by higher female deaths. Minimising the number of female sea lions who die as a result of a fisheries-related accident will help protect the whole population, and aligns with the vision of the New Zealand Sea Lion Threat Management Plan (TMP).

Fisheries observers play a crucial role in spotting dead sea lions and other animals, called “bycatch”, which happen as a result of fishing. OSOF supports having observers on at least 70% of fishing boats in the SQU 6T region, instead of the alternative lower coverage of 50%. Currently, there are observers on about 90% of fishing boats in this region, meaning that both proposed observer coverage options – either 70% or 50% – represent a decline from current levels. The introduction of a comprehensive monitoring program will help detect any changes in bycatch levels, a critical way of understanding how vulnerable the population is. A crucial part in saving this endangered population is having more observers on fishing boats.

“Sea lions are a protected species in Aotearoa and we should be ensuring we are doing all we can to reduce the number of sea lions that are accidentally killed during fishing trawls down to zero,” says Gemma Coutts, OSOF policy coordinator.

“Reducing these accidental mortalities aligns with the conservation goals of Te Mana o te Taiao as well, which in turn, will help to improve the conservation status of sea lions, and safeguard their habitat for generations to come.”

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