Threatened sea lions

Responsibility for setting limits on fishing-related sea lion deaths would move from the Fisheries Ministry to the Conservation Department under new proposals to manage the threatened species.

The Conservation Department has issued two plans aimed at boosting New Zealand sea lion numbers in the next 10 years.

One looks at fishing-related deaths, while the other deals with all threats to the species, for example disease.

One proposal would make the setting of sea lion death limits the responsibility of the conservation minister, under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.

The move would supersede the setting of limits by the fisheries minister, though he would be consulted and would consider the impact of any decision on commercial fishing.

The act aims to help species become non-threatened as soon as possible, or within 20 years at the latest.

Conservation Department director-general Al Morrison said the department would step up work to improve the sea lions’ long-term survival chances, and increase research into them.

“This is the world’s deepest-diving sea lion, one of five species of sea lion around the world, and the latest science has been showing a decline in pup numbers at their breeding colonies in the sub-Antarctic.”

Sea lions, which have threatened status under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, sometimes chase squid into trawl nets and drown. An estimated 110 were killed last year.

Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton set a limit of 93 deaths for this season, which begins on October 1.

The reports said disease remained the biggest threat to sea lions, but fishing-related deaths hammered the already depleted population.

Forest and Bird Protection Society conservation advocate Kirstie Knowles welcomed the move to bring the setting of sea lion death limits under the Marine Mammals Protection Act rather than the Fisheries Act.

But she criticised the plans as too technical and hard to digest, which she said could lead to confusion and apathy among the public.

Submissions on the plans close on October 29.