Sixteen endangered sea lions have been killed by fishing boats in three weeks near Campbell Island, the Government says.
Conservation Minister Nick Smith and Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said the sea lions died in the southern blue whiting (SBW) fishery around the island.
But rather than halt the fishery, the two departments have ordered boats to use exclusion devices on nets to keep sea lions from being trapped.
"The fatality of 16 sea lions from fishing is unacceptable," Mr Smith said.
Sea lions have been at risk from the squid fishing adjacent to Auckland Islands.
"This run of 16 fatalities in the Campbell Islands SBW fishery is a backwards step and requires we increase our efforts to protect these sea lions," Mr Smith said.
Mr Guy said there was 100% Ministry of Primary Industry coverage on the SBW fishery boats and there was a trawling exclusion zone around Campbell Island.
In the past the SBW fishery had three fatalities per year.
"These 16 fatalities in the first three weeks of a six-week fishing season is unprecedented," Mr Guy said
He said the Government required weekly reports on the fishery from officials.
"I welcome agreement of the industry to use the exclusion device and their additional efforts to minimise the time trawl gear is able to be accessed by the sea lions to reduce the ongoing risks," Mr Guy said.
The New Zealand Sea Lion is endemic to New Zealand and has an estimated population of between 10,000 and 12,000.
About 80% of the population live on the Auckland Islands and 20% on the Campbell Islands. The species is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's red list and as nationally critical on New Zealand's Threat Classification System.