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Dead In The Water - Govt’s Decision Spells Risks

News Release 29 May 2008


Dead In The Water - Government’s Decision Spells Risks Continued Decline For New Zealand’s Hector’s And Maui’s Dolphins

Conservation group Care for the Wild International (CWI) says that the Government’s disappointing decision on the Threat Management Plan (TMP) for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins does not ensure the species’ survival, despite being an advance on current protection levels.

CWI’s Chief Executive Dr Barbara Maas says, “CWI does not deny that this is a step in the right direction, for which we commend the Government. However, the TMP provided a unique opportunity to ensure the survival of this endangered species, which New Zealand safeguards on behalf of the world. Instead, today’s decision falls short of what is required to appease fishing interests.

“Despite the creation of new sanctuaries, dolphins still remain vulnerable to commercial and recreational gill netting. This was a flawed process from the outset; none of the management options in the TMP were sufficiently strong to protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins fully against fishing related mortality – its biggest threat. Even Option 3, the best of three choices included in the TMP, would only have given Hector’s dolphins a 50% chance of recovering to just half their 1970s numbers by 2050.

“Provisions for West Coast South Island Hector’s dolphins don't go far enough offshore to protect the dolphins and/or are only seasonal. Along Banks Peninsula, the new regulations don’t cover large, well established Hector’s dolphin range offshore.

“Today’s decision delivers not even that. Instead it is a hodgepodge of measures that will be hard to enforce and risks further population decline. Settling for a biologically inadequate conservation package adversely affects the animals’ fragile potential for recovery. Worse still, the new measures will not ensure that these dolphins’ don’t become extinct. Slowed down decline is still decline. You can’t be a little extinct.

“A bold and scientifically sound decision would have banned gillnetting throughout the dolphins’ habitat. The omission of this option in the TMP compromised the entire consultation exercise and limited effective conservation outcomes from the start. The agencies leading the process have from the outset been mindful of the country’s litigious fishing industry, no doubt fearful of being tied up in lengthy and costly legal proceedings. While taking some important steps, this decision seems designed to appease commercial fishing interests, who have consistently opposed all measures to protect these animals against bycatch mortality, including by taking the government to court. The gillnet fishery is barely economic and certainly won't survive the fuel price increases. This would have been the perfect time to help these fishermen into truly sustainable fisheries.

“Hector’s dolphins cannot sustain more than 10 deaths a year from all causes combined. The recently published NIWA Report showed that at least 110-150 animals die in commercial gillnets alone. The annual death toll for Maui’s dolphins, the north island subspecies of Hector’s dolphins, is even worse. Ninety percent are already lost, and a mere 111 animals survive; that’s less than 30 breeding females. Maui’s dolphins will become extinct if more than one animal is killed every 5-7 years. But at least 12 animals have died in the past 7 years. It doesn’t get any tighter than this.

Hector’s dolphin females reach breeding age once they are 7-9 years old and only have a single calf every 2-4 years. Even under the best possible circumstances population recovery would have been slow.

“Stakeholders agreed as long ago as 2000 that human impacts on Maui's dolphin needed to be reduced to zero. Today’s announcement does little to address bycatch risk for the world’s rarest dolphin in North Island harbours and makes no provisions for protection on the Taranaki coastline, where Maui's dolphins have been regularly sighted. As far as Maui’s dolphins are concerned, 1 death is 1 death too many.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Cetacean Specialist Group (IUCN CSG) and the Society of Marine Mammalogy (SMM) too have called on New Zealand to take the strongest possible measures to ensure the survival of these endangered dolphins.

“The world’s leading marine mammal scientists told the Government that nets need to be removed from the animals’ habitat to address their extinction threat. In a letter to the New Zealand prime minister, SMM President Dr John Reynolds urges New Zealand to consider that Hector's dolphins are amongst the best-studied species of marine mammals, that current measures are inadequate and that ‘management action does not need to wait for further research’.

“The Government failed to act along these lines. In doing so it could be in breach of its statutory mandate for Critically Endangered. Endangered or Vulnerable species to become non-threatened as soon as possible and at the least within 20 years, the requirement to base any decision upon the best available evidence, and to give the benefit of any doubts to the species. We will study the decision in more detail and explore options to facilitate a solution that will lead to population recovery for these animals.

”At best today’s decision is a half measure that fails to ensure the dolphins’ recovery or survival. Yet again the Government, in trying to give something to everyone, has lost the opportunity to do the right thing,” Dr Maas said. ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. Care for the Wild International (CWI)
CWI is a conservation and animal welfare charity that funds practical projects around the world. We make areas safe from poachers, rehabilitate sick or injured animals and provide sanctuary for those who can not return to the wild. We also act as a global voice for wildlife through research, education and advocacy, and expose animal cruelty and wildlife crime. - www.careforthewid.com

2. Hector’s Dolphin Facts
 Hector’s dolphins are classified as Endangered by the Red List of Endangered Species. This means that Hector’s are “facing a high risk of extinction in the near future”.
 Numbers have declined from 21,000-29,000 in the 1970s to less than 8,000 today.
 Commercial and recreational fishing is responsible for almost 70% of Hector’s dolphin deaths. Because not all deaths are reported, this is a minimum estimate.
 Other threats include boat strikes, pollution, sand-mining, coastal development and harassment.
 Existing protection measures have failed to halt the species decline. Hector’s dolphins will only be safe into the future if all threats of commercial and recreational fishing are removed.

3. Maui’s Dolphin Facts
 Maui’s dolphins are classified as Critically Endangered by the Red List of Endangered Species. This means that Maui’s dolphins are “facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future”.
 Only 111 Maui’s dolphins survive.
 There are just 25 breeding females left amongst about 60 breeding adults.
 Females only have one calf every 2-4 years and do not reach breeding age until they are 7-9 years old. These species’ potential for recovery is therefore extremely slow.
 Maui’s dolphins prefer shallow waters up to 100m deep and are therefore highly vulnerable to nets.

ENDS

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