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Industry wants careful consideration on dolphins

Seafood industry welcomes careful consideration on dolphin decision

30 November 2007

The seafood industry is pleased that the Fisheries and Conservation Ministers' have announced that more time is required before final decisions are made on the Maui's and Hector's Dolphin Threat Management Plan, says New Zealand Seafood Industry Council chief executive Owen Symmans.

"We are pleased to see the Ministers giving this important issue the due attention it requires. Ultimately, the decisions must be based on facts to ensure the best possible outcomes for dolphins and people. The TMP has revealed a significant lack of recent, reliable research and we hope that the Government will decide to address that appropriately in the New Year."

The number of deaths attributed to fishing is actually very small, Mr Symmans said. Since 2003 there have been no reported deaths of Maui's dolphins from commercial fishing net entanglements.

"Maui's dolphins are already fully protected within their range under existing closures - as seen in the nil deaths attributed to fishing since this measure was implemented in 2003. Hector's dolphins are not critically endangered, have significantly higher numbers and there is time to ensure the right decisions are being made."

He said the industry was happy to work with the Ministers of Conservation and Fisheries to put in place protection measures where there was a proven risk. To date the case for that risk had not been made. More information and maps showing the full impact of the Option 3 proposed closures are available at

Maui's and Hector's Dolphin Facts

Here is what is known and proven: Maui's Dolphins

* Between 1988 and 2003 there were two Maui's dolphin deaths attributed to commercial fishing net entanglement out of a total of 17 notified deaths

* Photographs of the two entanglement deaths show illegal driftnets, not commercial set nets

* No deaths attributed to commercial fishing since 2003, when a ban was established for four nautical miles on that Coast where the dolphins live

* Maui's dolphins are a subspecies of the Hector's dolphin that have become genetically differentiated by geographical isolation

* With the most recent deaths of Maui's dolphins, the cause of death was attributed to Brucellosis and it is worth noting that the Massey University veterinarians who carried out the narcropsy (autopsy) were surprised to find this bacteria in dolphins

* No Maui's dolphin death has ever been attributed to trawling

* The vast majority of dolphin sightings are within 1.8km of the coastline

* There have been no verified sightings within harbours

* Current Government observer programme on west coast north island trawlers will spend 258 days monitoring Maui dolphin interactions.

* Last year 106 days under the Government programme resulted in zero Maui's dolphin observed and consequently no interactions.
* No recent or current research on pollution, health, fishing or other impacts on the population (no proof that fishing, or any other human activity, is the 'biggest' or most 'significant' threat)

* The most recent aerial survey was in 2004 which estimated a population range between 48 and 252, with a point estimate of 110.

* It is unknown whether the population is declining or increasing.

Hector's Dolphins

* Since 2000 only 29 of the 123 confirmed deaths of Hector's dolphins have been attributed to commercial set netting

* There is no recent research that reliably estimates the total number of Hector's dolphins

* No recent or current research on pollution, health, fishing or other impacts on the population (no proof that fishing, or any other human activity, is the 'biggest' or most 'significant' threat)

* Annual mortalities attributed to fishing are less than 0.1% of population * Found mostly in waters up to 100m deep

* South Coast South Island survey conducted in 1998 estimated population of 89 and a survey conducted in 2004-2005 estimated between 300 and 660 (source: TMP)

* No deaths attributed to commercial fishing South Coast South Island since 1988

* Nobody knows exactly how many Hector's dolphins there are because there has not been enough recent research, but the accepted scientific estimate is 7,270 individuals (range between 5,303 and 9,966)

* There is no evidence available to determine if the population is declining or increasing Several points are made in the draft Threat Management Plan that echo industry's concerns about the uncertainty of the science. In particular:

* "Biological and stochastic factors mean there is a great deal of uncertainty around the minimum abundance that will ensure the long-term viability of Hector's dolphins". (p 61)

* "There is uncertainty around the current population estimates for Hector's dolphins. The most recent surveys to estimate abundance ..were undertaken 6-7 years ago. As such, the current abundance of South Island Hector's dolphins is unknown." (p 61)

* "Information on the extent of fishing impacts on Hector's dolphins is inadequate and uncertain. This is primarily due to limited information on the level of fishing-dolphin interactions and trends in species abundance." (p 62)


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