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21 September 2012 - Revelation of fisheries deaths spark call to save the world's most endangered sea lion      


21 September 2012

Humane Society International, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the Conservation Council of WA have today written to the Fisheries Minister Norman Moore calling for a management overhaul of the controversial gillnet fishery in WA’s southwest after revelations that endangered Australian sea lions and dolphins are dying in the fishery.

“When Western Australian’s sit down to a feed of fish and chips, we want to know that endangered sea lions and dolphins are not being put at unnecessary risk to provide that meal,” said CCWA Marine Coordinator Tim Nicol.

“Australian sea lions are the most endangered sea lion in the world and found only in Australia,” said Alexia Wellbelove senior program manager at HSI, “if we can’t protect them here, then no one else will do it for us.”

“Deaths in fishing nets is the most likely reason that our sea lion populations are not recovering,” said Tooni Mahto, Marine Campaigner with the AMCS, “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.”

Australian sea lions are an endangered species with only an estimated 2000 individuals left in Western Australia.  They are well known to be playful friendly animals, with a number of sea lion swim tours operating around our coasts.  Male Australian sea lions are often seen on Perth beaches, notably at Cottesloe, Garden Island near Rockingham and Little Island near Hillarys Boat Harbour.

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, AMCS 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.

“Why do we have an identical fishery right next door, but with different safeguards?,” said Ms Wellbelove, “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.”

“In dealing with an iconic and endangered species, there is no more time to lose” concluded Mr Nicol.

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.

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