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Decision on Hector's dolphin hailed

Decision on Hector's dolphin hailed

Forest and Bird welcomes the decision by the Minister of Fisheries, Pete Hodgson, to ban commercial set nets on the West Coast of the North Island to protect Maui dolphin (North Island Hector's dolphin).

Forest and Bird's marine spokesperson, Mr Barry Weeber, said the Ministers decision was a major step forward in the protection of this critically endangered dolphin. "Fishing-related deaths needs to be reduced to zero if this dolphin is to survive."

Mr Weeber said there are estimated to be well under 150 dolphins left. "Maui dolphin could be as rare as the kakapo and we can not afford to lose any more."

The Minister's decision bans commercial set nets from Pariokariwa Point (north of New Plymouth) to Maunganui Bluff (near Dargaville) and out to 4 nautical miles offshore. This ban is in addition to a prohibition on recreation set nets which has been in place since 2001. In addition the Minister has banned all set nets in Manukau Harbour entrance west of Puponga Point to Kauri Point.

Mr Weeber said the controls in Manukau Harbour entrance were a major step forward given the number of dolphins that had been caught around this area in 2001 and 2002.

"Forest and Bird welcomes moves to investigate the Waikato drift net fishery but are disappointed that a similar review is not being undertaken in other West Coast Harbours where the dolphin are found."

Mr Weeber said dolphins were observed in the entrances of the Kaipara Harbour and Raglan Harbour. "Forest and Bird will be taking up this omission with the Minister."

Forest and Bird also supports the proposed observer programme for trawlers that the Ministry of Fisheries is currently consulting on. "It is important to have observers on trawlers in the area, because trawlers pose a threat to the dolphins too."

"Trawlers have caught South Island Hector's dolphins and with the North Island Hector's dolphin being so critically endangered, it is imperative to take a precautionary approach. If trawling and Danish seining is to continue in this area, we must have 100% observer coverage," says Mr Weeber.

Forest and Bird is now recommending that part of the area from which set nets have been prohibited should be established as a marine mammal sanctuary.


Aerial surveys indicate that the population of Maui or North Island Hector's dolphin now numbers well under 150 individuals (Ferreira and Roberts 2003). The Maui dolphin is recognized by IUCN's (the World Conservation Union) scientific specialists group as being critically endangered.

The High Court decision in 2002 related only to commercial fishing. It did not affect recreational set netting, which is still banned out to 4 nautical miles between Pariokariwa Point and Maunganui Bluff.

Both commercial and recreational fishers have failed to report Hector's dolphin deaths in gill nets, a legal requirement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It wasn't till a scientific observer programme was undertaken of gill net and trawl vessels off the Canterbury coast that the true level of dolphin deaths was confirmed.

An historical press statement regarding fisheries by-catch of South Island Hector's dolphins from the former Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith, states: "What makes me particularly angry about this issue is that fishermen have for years failed to report fatalities and denied there was a problem. It has taken years to negotiate an observer programme. The initial results from this first year observer coverage has confirmed our worst fears. Despite observer coverage on only 89 of 351 fishing days, six fatalities were observed. I remain cynical of the fact that fishermen claim there were no deaths during the 252 days of fishing when observers were not present. I am advised by statisticians that the probability of the fatalities occurring only on the days when observers were present is less than 1 in 10 billion. Were this true I'd be advising every Canterbury fishermen to be buying a Lotto ticket, such is their luck. It is a legal requirement under the Marine Mammals Protection Act to report deaths of dolphins." (REF: http://www.ts.co.nz/~nicksmp/pressrel/7-29-98.html)

Gill nets are recognised as a major threat to these dolphins (eg Dawson 1991). Because of the poor reporting by the industry, only through independent observers or interview surveys does the level of dolphin bycatch become clear. A joint Ministry of Fisheries and University of Auckland survey interviewed a dozen West Coast North Island commercial set netters in 1999/2000 who had operated between Kaipara and New Plymouth. About a quarter of the fishers admitted that they caught Hector's dolphin, while all but one admitted catching other dolphins and seals. Only one of the 10 Hector's dolphins caught since the 1970s matched stranding records, and the fishers admitted catching three Hector's dolphins in the 1990s.

6. There is no evidence that setting nets low in the water column will reduce risk of dolphins being caught, as diet research indicates that Hector's Dolphin feed throughout the water column -not just near the surface. Likewise, it has not been proven that pingers deter dolphins from nets and, because of this, they have been rejected in some areas overseas involving critically endangered marine mammals.

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