Fur seals taking over - penguins, pelicans, tuna and fish at risk

A New Zealand Fur Seal.  Photo: Michael Sibley.
A New Zealand Fur Seal. Photo: Michael Sibley.

According to Mr Adrian Pederick MP, Liberal Member for Hammond , the New Zealand fur seals require immediate management in South Australia.

Mr Pederick has called on the Weatherill Labor Government to immediately prepare and implement an “Overabundant Native Species Management Plan”. Mr Pederick said that in South Australia, the New Zealand fur seals number more than 100,000, and their rapidly increasing population is having serious effects on South Australian marine life, the environment and the fishing industry.

“They are taking over and these fur seals will have an environmental impact in the future if they get down to the Southern Lagoon and Pelican Island and take out the pelican breeding grounds,” Mr Pederick said.

“The acting district ranger for the Coorong has advised the amount of birds injured or killed by the New Zealand fur seals is very high.

“Cultural rangers are having to euthanase pelicans with broken wings or with their legs torn off; injuries inflicted by the New Zealand fur seals.

“They’ve already taken out the Little Penguin populations on Granite Island and Kangaroo Island,” Mr Pederick said. “The seals get into tuna pens, damage fish, kill fish, and cost thousands of dollars in lost production of fish and in lost sales due to damage.”

“At the Coorong Fishery, where there are 33 licensed fishery fisherman, their income is being decimated by these New Zealand fur seals.

“I’ve had a net delivered to me and it was torn apart. I’ve been shown pictures of fish with their heads and tails torn off.”

Local KI resident John Ayliffe agrees that the call to manage the herd of New Zealand fur seals is long overdue, but he said it needs to be appreciated that the desire to manage the seal herd will not lead to an immediate implementation of a seal harvest program across the state’s waters.

“Between now and commencing harvesting, there is an urgent need to develop a management strategy and to determine what is a sustainable number of New Zealand fur seals for this state and for Southern Australia,” Mr Ayliffe said.

“A critical and urgent first step is to start tracking the New Zealand fur seals that are hauling out in and around the state’s commercial fishing grounds and in particular around the gulfs and the north coast of Kangaroo Island to determine where they are foraging.”

“In addition to the tracking, there should be weekly scat analysis of seals fitted with trackers to determine what they are eating.

“We still do not know how much New Zealand fur seals eat per day, but it is believed to be at least 10kg,” Mr Ayliffe said.

Local MP Michael Pengilly, Member for Finniss, said Mr Pederick’s call is similar to one put forward prior to the last state election.

“In essence we are saying to the Government, stop sitting on your hands and do something before fishing sectors go bust, and lives are made (more) difficult, with the damage being done,” Mr Pengilly said.

“My view is that if kangaroos, wallabies, emus, etc are subject to destruction permits on land, remembering we eat our coat of arms in kangaroos and emus, then common sense dictates that where seals are way out of control and impacting on fishing, the Government needs to take a common sense approach rather than a foolish, do-nothing situation before (if it’s not happening already) people take the law into their own hands and do it anyway.”

“A hungry human who has his livelihood destroyed and cannot afford to live will ultimately take a decision to put them and their family first.

“Seals are in plague proportions, (and they) are not warm and cuddly, but highly invasive, aggressive animals ,” Mr Pengilly said.

Mr Ayliffe said the research needed should be carried out by independent contractors.

“In my opinion, too many local NRM boards and some staff have displayed a serious lack of objectivity and honesty in gathering and interpreting data,” he said.

“There is also a need to have international experts, who have been involved in setting seal harvest quotas, to review all of the data held by the SARDI and PIRSA and to advise the Parliament on how to manage the seal herd,” Mr Ayliffe said.

He said a management plan should be implemented without delay to protect the genetic diversity of the Seal Bay sea lion colony which was being impacted on and would eventually be displaced by the New Zealand fur seals.

(KI NRM was asked for comment but at time of publication, had not responded.)