The world's rarest sea lions live right here in New Zealand. Without further action, New Zealand sea lions or rāpoka stand at risk of extinction. Earlier this year, the Department of Conservation's draft Endangered Species Strategy highlighted them as 'nationally critical', the most endangered category of animal in New Zealand. The population in the Auckland Islands (where most New Zealand sea lion pups are born) has declined by 50% in the past 15 years, so we need to do everything possible to help the population recover.
Fishing is the biggest human threat to these incredible animals – and the one we have the most control over. Now, the government has released a new draft plan to deal with squid fishing around the Auckland Islands. The draft plan opens a window for New Zealand sea lions’ survival, with an option to seriously reduce the fishing kill limit for sea lions – but without submissions from the public, the Ministry might just stick with the status quo. And that’s not good enough for our precious sea lions.
What’s more, we need better science – and, in the draft plan, the Ministry for Primary Industries has admitted this for the first time. There have been big changes in squid fishing methods in the last decade, including doubling the length of each trawl, but the Ministry has not taken this into account in their estimate of how may sea lions are coming into nets. doesn’t have the science to take this into account yet.
The squid trawl fishery uses Sea Lion Exclusion Devices (SLEDs), which are essentially escape hatches for sea lions, but we still don’t know many escape through the SLEDs alive, and how many drown in the nets and fall out the SLED uncounted. So our sea lions need the government to do the research to find out how well SLEDs work, and take a careful, cautious approach to management in the meantime.