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Australian Sea Lions      


Australian Sea Lions 

The Australian Sea Lion is our only endemic sea lion and therefore HSI feels particular responsibility to ensure is protected. Over the years HSI has sought to ensure that threats posed to this protected species are addressed, and one of these main threats has been the accidental catch or ‘bycatch’ in fisheries. 

bycatch of australian sea lions in fisheries 

In 2010, a report was published which estimated that 256 Australian Sea Lions were being killed each year in the gillnet sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) off South Australia. HSI had been awaiting the results of this report for some months, and shocked by the high numbers of the estimated bycatch of Australian Sea Lions, quickly began working with the federal Environment Department and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) to address this threat. HSI is a strong supporter of the scientific research that has been undertaken to date, which states that bycatch of Australian Sea Lions must be as close to zero as possible, in order for all sub-populations to recover. As a threatened species, listed under both federal and state environmental legislation this is important, however the Australian Sea Lion is also our only endemic sea lion found nowhere else in the world. In addition, the welfare implications for the animals were also of huge concern to HSI.

HSI has therefore been lobbying the Australian Government since early 2010 to ensure that adequate fisheries management measures are put in place to protect the Australian Sea Lions and reduce the numbers being caught and drowned in the gillnets or other gear types in all fisheries operating within the Australian Sea Lion’s range in South Australia and Western Australia.

So far however, the strategies put in place still place too high a risk on the species, and won' t allow for the recovery of all sub-populations of the Australian Sea Lion, as required by the condition under the current export approval.

HSI is appalled that the Australian Government can consider the deaths of 104 an endemic, threatened species to be an acceptable impact of the SESSF. The death of 104 animals, or 52 females, is totally unacceptable to HSI and as a result we are continuing to urge the Government to put in place better protection measures for the Australian Sea Lion.


For more information about previous action HSI took on this issue in 2010-11 click here

After substantial lobbying efforts by HSI a new Management Strategy was introduced by AFMA in late 2011, involving the establishment of a number of zones with ‘trigger limits’ for the number of Australian Sea Lions that could be killed before that zone closed. This strategy has led to significant effort reduction in the SESSF gillnet fishery, mostly due to the fact that these triggers were quickly breached in 2011-12 and three zones closed.  Thankfully since mid 2012 there has only been one reported fatality of an Australian Sea Lion and all zones are currently open to fishing. This is evidence that this strategy is being successful, thanks to the significant efforts by HSI and other stakeholders to protect this species. HSI continues to monitor this issue closely as any relaxation of approach could lead to more fatalities. In the meantime HSI also has concerns over the WA fishery which we are also monitoring closely in combination with local stakeholder representatives.

Background and History


HSI has long been involved in the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) and following concerns about the unacceptable bycatch of this, took forward a legal challenge in 2006 following the issuance of an export approval by the then Federal Environment Minister. HSI argued that the fishery had a detrimental impact on a number of threatened species including the Australian Sea Lion, eastern gemfish, Harrisson' s dogfish, school shark, orange roughy and species of albatross and petrel. The outcome of our legal challenge was the addition of a number of conditions under the SESSF' s export approval in 2008, including a condition focussed on Australian Sea Lions.

For more information about HSI' s legal challenge click here


The approval containing HSI' s negotiated sea lion condition expired on 22 December 2009, and shortly before this date negotiations restarted between HSI, the Federal Environment Department and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA).

Unfortunately, between 2006 and 2009, interactions between the fishery and Australian Sea Lions continued. As a result, an expert report was commissioned by Government to further examine this issue ' “ the Goldsworthy report. In advance of the publication of this report, HSI' s negotiations led to a revised Australian Sea Lion condition being included within the new export approval for the fishery to address interaction between the fishery and Australian Sea Lions, and ensure that management measures implemented would avoid mortality of, and injuries to the Australian Sea Lion, to enable the recovery of their populations, including all sub-populations, as part of the 2010 Wildlife Trade Operation approval given by the former federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett MP.

Since this time, HSI has closely monitored compliance with this condition. The SESSF must comply with this condition or face losing the fishery' s export approval.

Facts about the Australian Sea Lion

  • The Australian Sea Lion (Neophoca cinerea) is one of seven sea lion species worldwide. It is Australia' s only endemic seal species and its least numerous.
  • Globally, sea lions face numerous conservation and management challenges, and are in low abundance or in decline throughout parts or all of their range.
  • Australian sea lions have not recovered from historic sealing and are the lowest in number of all sea lion species.
  • The Australian Sea Lion is unique in having a breeding cycle of 17.5 months, occurring at different times across its range. It also has the longest gestation period of any seal species and a protracted breeding and lactation period.
  • Female Australian Sea Lions are extremely faithful to their birth sites and there is little or no interchange of females between breeding colonies even short distances of a few kilometres apart. Each colony may therefore represent a closed population or 'sub-population'. The loss of one female may therefore be extremely detrimental to the future of that colony.


Based on information from: Goldsworthy, S.D., Page B, Shaughnessy, P.D. and Linnane A (2010). Mitigating Seal Interactions in the SRLF and the Gillnet Sector SESSF in South Australia. Report to the Fisheries Research and Development Institute. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide. SARDI Publication No. F2009/000613-1. SARDI Research Report Series No. 405 (Known as the 'Goldsworthy report' )

Latest News

Federal government backs calls for greater sea lion protection

October 18th 2012 download PDF (107.4 kB)

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

September 21st 2012 download PDF (156 kB)

Environmentalists call for greater monitoring on Sea Lion deaths

September 21st 2012 ABC News Radio Interview click here

Further Australian sea lion deaths reiterate importance of fishery management measures

March 23rd, 2012 click here

HSI welcomes measures to protect Australian Sea lions

March 5 2012 click here


February 16th, 2011  download PDF (276.5 kB)

Concerns over dolphin and sea lion deaths in Australian Fishery

February 7th, 2011  download PDF (225 kB)

Mass dolphin and sea lion deaths in Australian waters

September 13, 2011  download PDF (196.2 kB)

How Many Dead Australian Sea Lions is too many?

June 3, 2011 click here

Australia's "supermum" may yet die at sea

October 4, 2010   click here

Critical Marine Habitats remain unprotected in Australian Waters Report

July 15 2010 download PDF (150.3 kB)

Protecting Marine Habitats

download report (2525.4 kB)

Fisheries bycatch killing our wildlife

June 7, 2010   click here

Australian Fishery threatens extinction for sea lions

April 22 2010  click here



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