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Holidaying set netters kill four Hector's Dophins

Hon Jim Anderton
Minister of Fisheries
Hon Chris Carter
Minister of Conservation

4 November 2005 Media Release

Holidaying set netters kill four endangered Hector's Dophins

"It is appalling that fishers on holiday in South Westland have killed four endangered Hector's Dolpins in their set nets without showing any concern for their actions," Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton and Conservation Minister Chris Carter said today.

On Sunday 30 October a member of the public discovered four dead Hector's dolphins tangled in a set net on a remote section of Neil's Beach near Haast. He photographed the scene and reported the incident to the Department of Conservation (DOC) on Tuesday this week.

DOC West Coast/Tai Poutini Conservancy staff investigating the incident determined that the dolphins had been cut from the net and left discarded on the beach. There was no sign of the net when DOC staff arrived on the scene.

On speaking to the fishers responsible on Wednesday 2 November, DOC investigators were told that deteriorating weather during the weekend had prevented them from retrieving the net. The fishers claimed they were unaware their net had killed four Hector's dolphins.

DOC's West Coast marine expert Don Neale said that as he was speaking to the fishers they were busily preparing another set net for fishing, and they did not seem to be concerned about the dolphins their previous net had already killed.

The killing of dolphins in a set net is not an offence under the Marine Mammal Proection Act 1978, but it is an offence to fail to report such incidents.

Ministers were informed of the incident yesterday.

"This is clearly a case of irresponsible fishing. They left a set net unattended in one of New Zealand's best known Hector's Dolphin habitats just 200 meters from shore. Fisheries guidelines on set netting clearly state that someone should remain close by and keep a watch over the net," Jim Anderton said.

"If they had done this, then they would have been on hand to free the dolphins caught in the net. They should have also been on hand to remove the set net before the weather became an issue.

"Nets set by recreational fishers are one of the biggest threats to Hector's dolphins. I encourage anyone using set nets to familiarise themselves with the Set Net Code of Practice, which is on the Ministry of Fisheries website: www.fish.govt.nz," Jim Anderton said.

Hector's dolphins are one of the world's rarest dolphin species and is found only in New Zealand waters. It is the world's smallest marine dolphin. The West Coast of the South Island is home to around 5400, or three-quarters of the total remaining population of 7200 in New Zealand.

“A total population figure of 7200 may look reasonable, but Hector’s dolphins have a low rate of reproduction. Females need to reach eight years before they can give birth and then they then produce around five calves over an average lifetime of 20 years,” Chris Carter said.

“This incredibly low reproduction rate is just sufficient for the population to replace itself. It is not sufficient to cope with human-caused deaths. It is essential that fishers act responsibly to help us conserve and protect the Hector's dolphins,” the Minister of Conservation said.

The Government is working on a Threat Management Plan, run jointly by DOC and the Ministry of Fisheries in conjunction with an Advisory Group. The aim is to better define threats to all dolphin populations and how to best manage those threats, including those posed by recreational set net fishing.

"Everyone is keen to get this plan underway so we can better protect the Hector's dolphin. While we prefer to use voluntary measures, if they don't work we may have to consider regulation," Jim Anderton said.


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