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NEW ZEALAND Sea lion kills force closure of squid fishery

Monday, April 15, 2002, 01:00 (GMT + 9)

An unacceptable number of sea lion kills has forced the early closure of the Auckland Islands squid fishery, says Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson.

Mr Hodgson said in a press release it was estimated that at least 79 sea lions had been killed in squid trawl nets this fishing season, the limit that triggers closure of the fishery.

Ministry of Fisheries observers are stationed on about a quarter of the boats operating in the squid fishery. Observed sea lion kills are extrapolated to provide an estimate of the total number of deaths.

The closure is effective from midday on 13 April, but the industry has confirmed that all vessels in the fishery are withdrawing from the area immediately. Mr Hodgson said that was a responsible reaction.

Although Marine Mammal Escape Devices are being tested in the fishery to see whether they successfully expel sea lions from squid nets, Mr Hodgson said the Ministry of Fisheries has yet to receive information from the trials to enable it to determine whether the devices are effective.

The Auckland Islands squid trawling season usually begins on 1 February and runs until early May, depending on catch rates and the number of sea lion kills.

The fishery was last closed by the Minister in 2000, when the number of sea lion kills was projected to exceed the then limit of 65. Last year the limit was 75 and 67 sea lions were killed. The changes to the limit reflect revised population modeling.

ECBC has evidence that grids and escape hatches, currently on trial in the UK are similar to those which were used in the New Zealand squid fishery. They are known to have resulted in the deaths of sea lions, and will undoubtedly result in the deaths of many cetaceans. For further information, please e-mail or write to ECBC, PO BOX 366, CHATHAM. KENT. UK ME5 7WE