Seal cull to ‘pro­tect seabirds’

Pro­tected fur seals de­stroy unique mut­ton­bird habitat. By Rachael Kelly.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS -

Mut­ton­bird­ers want to con­trol pro­tected fur seals, to stop them ma­raud­ing over the habitat of the small seabirds that have been har­vested by Ma¯ ori in a tra­di­tion dat­ing back nu­mer­ous gen­er­a­tions.

Rak­iura Ma¯ori are to meet De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cials this week, to dis­cuss con­trol­ling one species to save an­other from pop­u­la­tion col­lapse.

They are ex­pected to push for a tar­geted cull of the pro­tected kekeno seals, or a man­age­ment so­lu­tion to keep them off the 21 Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands, off the bot­tom of New Zealand.

Rak­iura Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands Ad­min­is­ter­ing Body chair­man Tane Davis has writ­ten to the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion, re­quest­ing they in­ves­ti­gate meth­ods to con­trol kekeno on the is­lands.

Rak­iura Ma¯ ori fam­i­lies have rights to gather tı¯tı¯ (mut­ton­birds) on the is­lands, in April and May each year. About 500 peo­ple ex­er­cise those rights, and they have whare on the is­lands where they stay.

But Davis said seal num­bers were in­creas­ing by 25 per cent a year, ‘‘over­whelm­ing’’ the is­lands where tı¯tı¯ nest. ‘‘Mass areas of tı¯tı¯ bur­rows’’ were be­ing flat­tened by seals, he warned.

For­est & Bird ma­rine con­ser­va­tion ad­vo­cate An­ton van Helden said the pro­posal to con­trol fur seals was ‘‘ridicu­lous’’; the 200,000-plus New Zealand fur seal pop­u­la­tion was ‘‘nowhere near’’ the es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion kekeno that lived around New Zealand be­fore they were dev­as­tated by seal­ing in the 1800s. ‘‘Culling fur seals is a no-go,’’ van Helden ar­gued. ‘‘We need to con­sider other ways to con­trol a sit­u­a­tion like this. If in fact they are im­pact­ing on tı¯tı¯, we have to find other mea­sures to pro­tect tı¯tı¯.’’

Min­is­ter of Con­ser­va­tion Eu­ge­nie Sage re­fused to com­ment, re­fer­ring in­quiries to the de­part­ment.

Tony Pre­ston, the de­part­ment’s op­er­a­tions man­ager for Muri­hiku, said the de­part­ment had ac­knowl­edged Rak­iura Ma¯ ori con­cerns about the kekeno pop­u­la­tion on the Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands.

Kekeno had been re­colonis­ing areas around New Zealand since their pro­tec­tion un­der the Ma­rine Mam­mals Pro­tec­tion Act in 1978.

‘‘We have not yet met with the Rak­iura Tı¯tı¯ Is­land Ad­min­is­ter­ing Body or Nga¯i Tahu ru¯ nanga and this will be the first step to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the im­pact kekeno are hav­ing on the Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands and the cul­tural har­vest­ing of tı¯tı¯,’’ he said.

Dr Michael Stevens, a for­mer se­nior lec­turer in Ma¯ ori his­tory at the Univer­sity of Otago, com­pleted a PhD in his­tory that ex­am­ined the knowl­edge and prac­tices that un­der­lay the an­nual tı¯tı¯ har­vest, an ac­tiv­ity he takes part in.

‘‘The Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands are not, in my view, the right­ful place for large num­bers of seals,’’ he said.

‘‘We lost sub­stan­tial con­trol of manag­ing our own fish­eries – paua, fish, and seals – and thus those things are now prob­lem­atic.

‘‘Where we have main­tained con­trol – the har­vest it­self – things are mostly in good health. This is the re­sult of a whole bun­dle of es­tab­lished cus­toms that re­main in­tact: only ju­ve­nile tı¯tı¯ are har­vested and houses on the is­lands are only built in spec­i­fied areas where tı¯tı¯ do not nest.’’

Rak­iura Ma¯ ori were in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion, try­ing to pro­tect both the birds and their cul­tural prac­tices. ‘‘If we cull seals on our is­lands, in line with our an­ces­tors’ be­hav­iour, we would be breach­ing any num­ber of statutes.

‘‘How­ever, if we abide by those statutes, the tree life and thus bur­row den­sity of sev­eral Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands will de­cline mas­sively – and we would be fail­ing to pre­serve the as­set be­queathed to us and be pass­ing on a lesser as­set to our own chil­dren and mokop­una in turn.

‘‘This quandary will be with us for as long as this coun­try’s laws and thus regimes of en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment are dis­pro­por­tion­ately con­trolled by North Is­land-based and ur­ban-dwelling Pakeha preser­va­tion­ists.’’

Culling fur seals is a no-go. We need to con­sider other ways to con­trol a sit­u­a­tion like this. An­ton van Helden, For­est and Bird


Tane Davis, be­low, rep­re­sent­ing Ma¯ori fam­i­lies who har­vest mut­ton­birds, says pro­tected fur seals are ‘over­whelm­ing’ the T¯ıt¯ı Is­lands.

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