Save NZ Sea Lions

If current trends continue the New Zealand sea lion could be virtually extinct in two decades.

Despite the desperate plight of the world’s most endangered sea lion, the Government has released a discussion document that only recommends more monitoring and research of the NZ sea lion population for the next 20 years.

Action is what is needed now to save our magnificent sea lion, which has the same Nationally Critical status as the kakapo.  

Over 4000 of our supporters made a submission to tell the Government it must act to reduce the impact of commercial fishing on sea lions.

A plan for managing threats to NZ sea lions

DOC and MPI are asking for feedback on their latest 20 year plan for saving NZ sea lions from extinction.

But their plan doesn’t aim to move the NZ sea lion population out of the nationally critical category, it doesn’t provide an action plan to increase the population, and it largely dismisses the impact of squid trawling, the main preventable threat to sea lions at the Auckland Islands where 70% of sea lions breed and raise their pups.  

With your help, we can tell the Government they need to act now and provide clear measures that will ensure the world’s only populations of these amazing animals have a chance at recovery.

What’s killing NZ sea lions?

The main preventable threat to Auckland Island sea-lions is nursing females being killed or injured in trawl nets or so-called sea lion exclusion devices (SLEDs). Squid boats trawl the seas around the Auckland Islands during the season when female sea lions have dependent pups back on shore. The boats use gigantic nets to scoop up the same squid sea lions feed on and whatever else might be in the area, like sea lions.  

The fishing industry claims the SLEDs give sea lions a chance to escape the nets unharmed, but there is little evidence to support this.  Sea lions may be killed, ejected dead after drowning in the nets, or be ejected badly injured to die later. One thing the SLEDs do achieve is getting rid of the evidence of sea lions being in the nets.

If a female sea lion is fatally wounded or drowned in a net or by the SLED, not only will she die, so will her pup waiting onshore, and because she is often already pregnant, so will next year’s pup as well. 

Other things are killing NZ sea lions too. Disease, male aggression and drowning in holes are all noted in in the consultation document as significant threats to sea lion pups, but these are naturally-occurring risks. Small practical steps such as ramps have already been put in place to help sea lion pups get out of holes, but the other risks are very difficult to manage.  Fishing practices on the other hand could be changed for the better almost immediately.

Better fishing techniques

Jigging is used all over the world to catch squid. It is a proven, economic, and sustainable solution that uses lines with multiple hooks, instead of indiscriminate trawl nets. Fishing fleets using jigging do not catch sea lions as bycatch. Jigging was discontinued in the Auckland Islands in the mid ‘90s because it was cheaper to use trawling vessels from other fisheries.

Our submission

Forest & Bird has made a submission on the draft Threat Management Plan, outlining the following key concerns:

  • The draft Threat Management Plan is lacking even a mildly ambitious long term goal to recover the NZ sea lion population.
  • Forest & Bird recommends the long term goal should be to recover the sea lion population to non-threatened status and that there should be meaningful and measurable short term demographic targets.
  • The draft Threat Management Plan has few management actions and those that it does have are not very meaningful.
  • The Threat Management Plan needs to prioritise management actions to alleviate anthropogenic threats, specifically fisheries related mortalities.
  • The Threat Management Plan has failed to highlight uncertainties associated with the use of Sea Lion Exclusion Devices and did not propose research to address Sea Lion Exclusion Device efficacy.
  • Forest & Bird is proposing an additional national program of work to address fisheries threats and Sea Lion Exclusion Device efficacy concerns.
  • Forest & Bird recommends zero mortality of New Zealand sea lions from all fishing activities as soon as practicable, and in any event by 2022.
  • Forest & Bird proposes to achieve this by implementing an innovative adaptive management plan.
  • The adaptive management plan proposes a spatial fisheries closure at the Auckland Islands that will not restrict squid quota from being caught.

Click here to download a full copy of our submission (PDF)