New Zealand’s sea lions are the rarest in the world. Government figures show that the number of sea lion pups produced each year is in decline, halving since 1998. If this decline continues they are likely to become extinct within our lifetime.
These animals were once found all around coastal New Zealand but they are now restricted to a few colonies on the sub-Antarctic Islands. The biggest threat to them is from commercial fishing.
The squid fishery trawls in the same area as the main breeding population and each year NZ sea lions are captured and killed in the giant trawl nets used to catch squid. The squid fishing season also coincides with the NZ sea lion breeding and nursing period which means that the majority of females killed by the trawl nets around the Auckland Islands will have a dependent pup on shore and are often pregnant with next season’s pup.
These animals are in the same critically endangered category as kakapo and Maui dolphins. Shockingly, whilst they are fully protected under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, incidental captures during fisheries operations are not an offence, as long as they are reported.
What’s being done
In 1995, a Marine Mammal Sanctuary was established in the Auckland Islands to help protect sea lions. Stretching for 12 nautical miles from nearest shore, this sanctuary will allow the government to implement fishing regulations in these areas.
In 2003, an overlapping no-take marine reserve was established in this area, giving further protection to our sea lions. However, neither the marine reserve nor the marine mammal sanctuary covers the whole range of any NZ sea lion.
Project Jonah believes the existing Marine Mammal Sanctuary should be extended so that it protects the areas where NZ sea lions are found. We would like the sanctuary to be extended to 500m depth, as this would protect key foraging areas particularly important to lactating female sea lions.
Other urgent moves include:
- Switching squid fishery from trawling to jigging, which is an alternative fishing method which allows for squid to be caught in a way unlikely to kill any NZ sea lions
- Setting a precautionary mortality limit for sea lions in the squid fishery – this means reducing the fishing quota for killed sea lions closer to zero
- Establishing a no-trawl Marine Mammal Sanctuary around Campbell Island out to the 12 nautical mile limit.
- Developing a population management plan so NZ sea lions can be managed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, rather than the Fisheries Act, which would allow these animals to ‘achieve a non-threatened status as soon as reasonably practicable
What you can do to help
- Write to the Minister of Conservation (Freepost, Parliament Buildings, PO Box 1888, Wellington 6160) or email her calling for an extension of the Auckland Islands Marine Mammal Sanctuary and establishment of a marine mammal sanctuary around the Campbell Islands.
- Write to the Minister of Fisheries (Freepost, Parliament Buildings, PO Box 1888, Wellington 6160) or email him calling for a reduction of sea lion deaths to zero in all fisheries by reducing the kill limit and transferring quota to other areas.
Postage is free! Just write 'Freepost Parliament' where the stamp would normally go.