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Court ruling - more endangered dolphins will die

Media statement For immediate release - 29 September 2008

Court ruling means more endangered dolphins will die in fishing nets

A high court ruling is likely to mean at least 30 Hector’s dolphins die in commercial set nets over the next three months, says global conservation organisation WWF.

New protection measures restricting net fishing were due to come in Wednesday 1 October, but the high court has granted an interim injunction on the measures as a result of fishing industry legal action which puts dollars ahead of dolphins. This action means the protection measures will not be implemented until early 2009, if at all.

“This is a sad day for New Zealand. The new protection measures are essential to stopping the serious decline of Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins,” said WWF-New Zealand’s Marine Programme Manager Rebecca Bird. “Over the last three decades, fishing with nets has been killing Hector’s and Maui’s faster than they can breed. As a consequence, there is now a struggling population threatened with extinction – from over 30,000 Hector’s dolphins in the 1970s to just 7,270 today.”

Fishing with set nets is the main human cause of the dolphins’ decline. In March this year, crown scientific research organisation the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research estimated that commercial set nets kill 110 to 150 dolphins each year.

In May, the Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Conservation announced a suite of protection measures, which Hector’s dolphin scientists estimate will significantly slow the dolphins’ decline. The measures are not far-reaching enough to ensure their recovery.

WWF’s Rebecca Bird said Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins range closer to shore during the summer where set net fishing occurs, making it a particularly dangerous time of year when Hector’s are at greater risk of drowning in fishing nets.

“Dolphins can’t detect the fine mesh of set nets. When they swim into them, they become entangled, and drown. We are urging fishers to stop using set nets, to take a stand for sustainability by changing to different fishing methods that don’t catch dolphins. The future of one of our nation’s most precious species is at stake, as is New Zealand’s international reputation as a leader in sustainable fisheries management.”

Ms Bird said that the fisheries legal action was significant in the industry’s reliance on its reputation as a sustainable industry: “As a global conservation organisation, we are often asked by seafood purchasers from around the world to advise on the sustainability of New Zealand fish product. Today, in line with this ruling, we will be advising that wild-caught New Zealand seafood product from in-shore net fisheries should not be viewed as sustainable and we will communicate today’s action to our international contacts. The fishing industry is aware that if they continuing to fish using nets this would result in Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins’ going extinct, and they are pursuing legal action to continue to fish this way.”

New protection measures for endangered Hector’s and critically-endangered Maui’s dolphins were due to come in from 1 October, banning fishing with nets in more of the dolphins’ habitat. WWF is continuing to campaign for total protection for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, including a ban on set net and trawl fishing throughout the dolphins’ current and historic range to ensure populations recover.



• Under current fishing methods, the Ministry of Fisheries doesn’t know whether said the two main fish species caught using set nets – lemonfish (rig) and elephant fish – are sustainably managed. See http://www.fish.govt.nz/en-nz/SOF/StockStatus.htm. Forest & Bird’s Best Fish Guide lists both as fish to avoid.

• 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

• A recent public survey found that 83% of New Zealanders support a ban on set netting and trawling in order to save Hector’s dolphins from extinction – http://www.wwf.org.au/news/kiwis-support-trawl-and-set-net-ban/.

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