Federal Government Backs Calls for Greater Sea Lion Protection
Humane Society International and the Conservation Council of WA have today welcomed new conditions on the southwest gillnet fisheries that require improved protections for Australian sea lions, and call on the Department of Fisheries to implement these conditions without delay.
“The Australian sea lion is the world’s most endangered sea lion and the biggest threat to its recovery is deaths in gillnets,” said Conservation Council Marine Coordinator Tim Nicol.
“We call on the Department of Fisheries to fully implement the new conditions on the southwest gillnet fishery. That means undertaking a targeted independent observer based study to better understand what protected species are being caught, and to implement gillnet fishing closures around areas of highest risk near colonies where pups and mothers feed.”
Similar management measures have been implemented in South Australia where all gillnet vessels are now required to monitor bycatch using video surveillance after a large number of Australian sea lion and dolphin deaths were recorded. Gillnet fishing is banned within 7.3km and 18.5km of a sea lion colony depending on local risk factors, and zones of the fishery are shut down if too many sea lion deaths are recorded in a season.
“Why do we have an identical fishery right next door, but with different safeguards?,” said Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at HSI, “we need to harmonize the management of gillnet fishing across southern Australia to ensure Western Australia’s sea lions get the same protection as those in South Australia.”
“Deaths in fishing nets is the most likely reason that our sea lion populations are not recovering,” said Ms Wellbelove, “with some of WA’s sea lion colonies having as few as ten breeding females even one death could be too many. Some colonies could be heading to extinction and we wouldn’t find out until it was too late.”
Revelations of sea lion deaths came after the Department of Fisheries reported in an upper house Estimates Enquiry that the Western Australian gillnet fishery had captured at least 2 Australian sea lions in both 2011 and 2012. There are no observers on Western Australian gillnet vessels so real numbers could be much higher.
Research by the South Australia Research and Development Institute showed that without observers on fishing vessels only 20% of sea lion deaths are noticed by fishermen because dead seals fall out of the nets, and even less are reported. After the study the estimated number of sea lion deaths in the South Australian gillnet fishery went from less than 10 to 256 per year, prompting the management changes.
CCWA and HSI are calling on the Department of Fisheries to implement the same management measures as the adjacent South Australian gillnet fishery where observers or cameras are placed on each vessel, and zones of the fishery are shut down if sea lions deaths occur.
The Estimates Enquiry also revealed that the controversial gillnet fishery also reports captures of an average of 2 dolphins, 1 fur seal and 60 harmless grey nurse sharks each year. One whale was also captured in 2009. Real numbers could be significantly higher.