Monday, March 20, 2006

Anderton mulling squid quotas

The government may let squid fishers take advantage of a sudden blooming in squid numbers this year -- a step that would require a relaxation in the numbers of sea lions that are normally killed in the process of developing the squid catch.

Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton is floating the move but said he is concerned about the uncertain science.

The southern squid trawl fishery operates around the Auckland Islands, from February through to April or May, or until the fishing-related mortality limit for sea lions is reached. New Zealand sea lions eat squid and are at risk of drowning when they chase squid into trawl nets.

The mortality limit, which is reviewed annually, is currently 97. The proposal would relax the number to 150 just for this season, he said.

Mr Anderton is consulting with stakeholders on this issue until the end of March, and will announce his decision shortly after that.

"It is a difficult decision to set limits on the number of deaths allowable every year before closing the area to squid fishing, but I am advised that this proposed change should not adversely threaten the viability of the sea lion population.

"Indeed the scientific advice I have previously received suggested that a mortality limit of 555 sea lions in the current season should not threaten the viability of the population.

"However, in light of uncertainties in applying a scientific model to the real world I am still exercising considerable caution," Mr Anderton said.

"This year there is more squid in New Zealand's southern waters than usual, but these squid are so short lived that they may not be around in these numbers next year.

"New Zealand is presented with an opportunity to capitalise on this valuable resource, at a time that would particularly benefit our economy," he said.

The idea is certain to raise objections from some quarters because the New Zealand sea lion, formerly known as the Hooker's sea lion, is classified as threatened under the Marine Mammals Protection Act.

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