“This is the main southern blue whiting fishery and the very healthy state of the stock means that we can continue to harvest sustainably from it into the future,” said George Clement, Chief Executive of Deepwater Group which is an alliance of quota owners in New Zealand’s deepwater fisheries.
The decision comes after the Ministry for Primary Industries’ 2014 stock assessment which confirms this southern blue whiting stock is healthy and continues to increase in size.
“The decision to increase the catch limit is based on reliable and independent science which gives confidence that we can increase the sustainable harvest level,” said Mr Clement.
In addition, rather than wait another three years for the next survey of southern blue whiting stocks, the Ministry and industry will undertake the next survey in 2015 to confirm the state of the stocks.
Mr Clement said the southern blue whiting fishery fleet also recognises the importance of minimising environmental impacts, particularly in relation to New Zealand sea lions which breed on Campbell Island.
“After the previous season when no sea lion interactions occurred, an unprecedented number of sea lions arrived to feed around southern blue whiting trawl nets during 2013, resulting in 21 males being accidentally caught. Four of these were released alive.”
Mr Clement said industry immediately adopted additional measures to reduce sea lion captures and that these had been supported in an independent review by global experts in sustainability.
The measures in place include: real-time monitoring and responses, minimising the time nets are on or near to the surface, management of offal discharges, deployment of Sea Lion Exclusion Devices (SLEDs), and independent observers on all vessels.
“In 2012 there were no captures, but we faced a real challenge in 2013 when hungry males turned up in numbers. Our objective is zero captures. We monitor the fishery daily and, when large numbers of sea lions turned up to feed off our nets in 2013, everyone involved worked together to minimise captures. All vessels in the fishery carry Ministry for Primary Industries’ observers and their feedback is invaluable on how we can avoid these unwelcome interactions,” he said.
“We have also thrown our support behind the Government’s call for a Threat Management Plan for New Zealand sea lions in response to the continued decline in pup production in the Auckland Islands’ population and confirmation that hundreds of sea lion pups are dying each year due to disease, probably Klebsiella pneumoniae."