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Fisheries lawsuit shows contempt for public

14 September 2008

Fisheries lawsuit shows contempt for public opinion - WWF

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Hector's dolphin in a fishing net, South of Granity, west coast. Photo courtesy of Martin Abel, DOC


The commercial fishing industry is showing contempt for New Zealanders’ wishes by filing a lawsuit against measures to protect endangered Hector’s dolphins, conservation organisation WWF said today.

WWF was responding to Friday's announcement by several commercial fishing organisations that they were seeking a judicial review to have dolphin protection measures applying to commercial fishing overturned in some areas of the dolphins’ habitat.

“Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are amongst the rarest dolphin species in the world, and the vast majority of New Zealanders want to protect them,” said WWF-New Zealand Executive Director Chris Howe. A WWF/Colmar Brunton survey in April had found that more than four in five New Zealanders (83%) were in favour of protecting the dolphins, even if there were economic costs.

“This move by the fishing lobby is short-sighted. These measures are already a compromise between fishing interests and conservation interests. They are enough only to stop the dolphins’ decline, not ensure recovery. Any further reduction in the areas protected would not even halt their decline. It shows contempt for public opinion, and ignores the scientific research showing that fishing with nets is pushing these endangered species towards extinction.”

The commercial fishing industry was also ignoring the serious harm to New Zealand’s international image if it fails to protect the dolphins. “Can the fishing industry please explain how driving the world’s rarest dolphins towards extinction would enhance our image as ‘100% Pure’ or ‘clean and green’? Is the industry prepared to take responsibility for any harm to our tourism industry and to other exporters?”

The lawsuit challenges a decision by Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton, announced in May 2008, to protect the dolphins by introducing regional bans and other restrictions on set netting, drift netting and trawling. The changes are due to come into force on 1 October 2008.

Mr Howe said that WWF sympathised with fishers whose livelihoods may be affected by the bans, but said the fishing industry had the option of using more sustainable fishing methods that did not catch dolphins. “The Government’s new measures are a significant step forward – they don’t go as far as we and other conservation groups have been pushing for, but they are likely to stop the species’ decline. WWF is extremely disappointed that the fishing industry, which in other areas has proven to be capable of evolving sustainable fishing practices, is pursuing a type of fishing that is proven to be pushing a species to extinction. We urge fishers to stop using set nets and move to sustainable methods of fishing that don’t catch dolphins.”

Hector's dolphin and the North Island subspecies Maui’s dolphin live only off the coast of New Zealand. Numbers of Hector’s dolphin have declined from about 26,000 in 1970 to about 7,270 now. The dolphins are classed as 'Endangered' on the World Conservation Union's Red List. North Island sub-species Maui’s dolphin number 111 and are listed as ‘Critically Endangered’.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research has estimated that commercial set nets kill 110 to 150 dolphins each year. An Otago University study by Professor Lis Slooten has found that the protection measures will significantly slow the decline.


- Globally, set nets are estimated to kill 300,000 small cetaceans (dolphins) each year.

- National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research estimate of dolphin deaths – http://www.fish.govt.nz/en-nz/Consultations/Archive/2008/Hectors+dolphins/New+information.htm

- Otago University research on the impact of the protection measures – http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/2008/27-06-08_press_release.html.

- World Conservation Union Red List entry on Hector’s dolphins – http://www.iucnredlist.org/search/details.php/4162/all.

- WWF/Colmar Brunton survey on protection measures – http://www.wwf.org.au/news/kiwis-support-trawl-and-set-net-ban/.


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