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Tide of dolphin deaths must end complacency

Press Release For immediate release - 1/30/2008

Tide of dolphin deaths must end complacency

The recent deaths of 22 common dolphins in trawl nets off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island must end any remaining complacency over marine mammal conservation.

The carnage caused by just four jack mackerel boats in December was witnessed by government observers. Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick has admitted that it is not uncommon for dolphins to be caught in the fishery concerned. However, it is unusual to have such a high number of reported incidental deaths in just one month.

Government officials also admitted that some of the vessels involved continued fishing in the area despite consistently catching dolphins in their nets.

Rebecca Bird, WWF-New Zealand Marine Programme Leader, said: “This is an appalling demonstration of how lethal irresponsible fishing can be for dolphins. It is fortunate officials were on hand and action was taken, but we are really concerned about what happens when they aren’t around.”

Chris Howe, WWF-New Zealand Executive Director, said: “Voluntary procedures effectively mean fishers can still choose to kill dolphins, and they have the commercial imperative to risk doing so. How many more dolphins must die to prove voluntary schemes don’t work and regulations must be tightened?”

The news comes as the government is considering the draft Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin Threat Management Plan. Hector’s dolphins’ populations are in serious decline, having fallen from an estimated 26,000 in the 1970s to about 7,270 today. Only an estimated 111 Maui’s dolphins remain.

Chris Howe said: “The threat management plan must include adequate restrictions on trawling throughout the dolphins’ range if we are to protect these two endangered species, more common dolphins, and the 24 million tourist dollars they contribute to New Zealand’s economy.”

WWF is also calling for a complete national ban on set nets, which are the biggest threat to the animal’s survival.

Globally, more than 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises die from entanglement in fishing nets each year, making bycatch the single largest cause of mortality for small cetaceans. This has pushed several species, including the Maui’s, to the brink of extinction.

Chris said: “This is a global issue on which New Zealanders now have a chance to demonstrate real leadership.”


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