A new Threat Management Plan released today will help protect endangered New Zealand sea lions, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy and Conservation Minister Maggie Barry say.
The New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka Threat Management Plan sets out a five-year programme of engagement, targeted research, direct mitigation, and regular monitoring at all known breeding sites.
The New Zealand sea lion is classified as “Nationally Critical” and there are fewer than 12,000 left. Ninety eight per cent of breeding occurs on Campbell and the Auckland Islands, but there are also small populations on the lower South Island and Stewart Island.
“This plan, supported by a government funding package of $2.8 million announced last month, sets out practical actions and measures to mitigate threats to sea lions and will help their recovery,” says Mr Guy.
“The threats to sea lions are varied and no single factor is solely responsible for the decline in sea lion numbers.
“While disease and commercial fishing are the greatest threats for sea lions at the Auckland Islands, incidents involving humans, such as shootings, are a greater threat to sea lions on New Zealand’s South Island and Stewart Island. Poor habitat and pups getting stuck in holes are the greatest threats on Campbell Island.
“Management of commercial fishing interactions with sea lions will remain a key focus for MPI. A new Technical Advisory Group has made recommendations on the Operational Plan for the Southern Squid fishery which is currently being reviewed.
“Fishers are keen to do the right thing and avoid bycatch. Sea Lion Exclusion Devices (SLEDs) have been effective in reducing sea lion captures and there will be further research into their operation.”
Ms Barry says a community liaison officer will be employed to help address the human threats, facilitate growth of the population and foster a positive reaction to having more sea lions on the New Zealand coastline.
“This officer will develop and implement a community education campaign to help prepare people for more sea lions returning to the South Island, and help them appreciate how precious and vulnerable sea lions are.
“Another key action of the Plan will be to carry out more research into the disease Klebsiella pneumoniae, and work out ways of mitigating the effects of this disease.
“We already have a fine example of kiwi No: 8 wire ingenuity in ‘Planks for Pups’ – a simple but effective measure to save pups that fall into holes at breeding sites on the subantarctic islands. The holes are deep and steep sided and without the planks to climb out on the pups can’t feed and either starve to death or drown.
“Other practical steps will include regular monitoring of all four breeding sites including more frequent monitoring on Campbell Island - the second largest breeding colony - and developing more solutions to reduce pup mortality on Campbell Island,” Ms Barry says.
The New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka Threat Management Plan will continue to involve partnership with Ngāi Tahu as a Treaty Partner and stakeholder groups.
New mechanisms to weave mātauranga Māori throughout each workstream will be developed in partnership with whānau, hapū and iwi, something which has been absent from recovery plans in the past.
A New Zealand sea lion/rāpoka Forum and an Advisory Group have been established to aid in prioritisation of the annual work plan to support the NZSL TMP.