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Illegal Set Net Spotted From Helicopter

Media release from WWF, the conservation organisation 3 February 2004

Illegal set net spotted from helicopter during survey of Maui's dolphin.

An illegal set gillnet was found last Saturday as scientists in a helicopter were finishing an aerial survey of the critically endangered Maui's dolphin, along the west coast of the North Island. The net was found 2km north of Port Waikato, just north of the Waikato river. It was set from the beach and staked - an illegal practice. The net has been seized and the offenders will be prosecuted according to the Ministry of Fisheries.

A year ago, the Minister of Fisheries approved a commercial and recreational set net ban to 4 nautical miles offshore from Dargaville to New Plymouth and into Manukau harbour to protect the critically endangered Maui's dolphin. There are thought to be fewer than 100 dolphins left alive, and they are at great risk from entanglement in set nets and subsequent drowning.

"It is particularly distressing to see this set net being illegally staked to the shore as the aerial survey team have reported Maui's very close to shore," says Jo Breese, WWF Chief Executive.

WWF commended the government decision last October to increase the fine from $250 to a maximum of $20,000 for recreational fishers who break the Maui's dolphin set net ban along the North Island west coast.

"We are pleased that swift action has been taken to seize the net, however, it is important that the set net ban is constantly monitored," says Jo Breese.

Notes:

- All set netting is prohibited within 4 nautical miles of the coast from Maunganui Bluff (north of Dargaville) to Pariokariwa Point (north of New Plymouth) and the entrance to Manukau harbour. Promptly report any set nets operating within the closed area. Call the Ministry of Fisheries hotline on 0800 4 POACHER.

- The main aim of the Maui's aerial survey is to determine the distribution of the local population, in particular how far offshore they are found and whether this changes seasonally. This survey is jointly funded by the Department of Conservation and WWF-New Zealand. The survey will estimate the proportion of the Maui's dolphin population that is protected within the 4 nautical miles set net ban boundary in summer and winter.

- More than one human induced death every seven years seriously threatens the Maui's chances of recovery. Despite this, since July 2001, seven dead Maui's dolphins have been found. Two were in fishing nets, two showed signs of being entangled in nets, two were too badly decomposed to tell and one dolphin died of natural causes.


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