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Scientists and Conservationists dispute MPI’s Claims

Independent scientists and conservation groups are disputing a Ministry of Primary Industry Fisheries Manager’s claims that Maui’s dolphins’ protection measures are adequate, in the latest round of discussions on their fate.

Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Select Committee is currently considering scientific evidence and petitions signed by 67,469 people from New Zealand and around the world, calling for protection of Maui’s Dolphins, out to 100m deep, in harbours and down the coast in a dolphin corridor to the South Island.

Yesterday Ministry of Primary Industry Inshore Fisheries Manager Steve Halley denied that on the North Island's west coast Maui's dolphins go out that far.

But information released under the Official Information Act to the environmental group Maui’s & Hector’s Dolphins Education/Action reveals that there were no MPI observers on the fishing fleet in the core Maui’s dolphins range for the last three years. The group’s Chairperson, Christine Rose, says “It’s no wonder MPI aren’t seeing any dolphins, they’ve got nobody looking’. ‘This is despite a commitment in the Maui’s dolphins’ Threat Management Plan to ‘reduce the risk trawling poses to Maui dolphins and to provide robust information to inform assessment of the level of interaction between (commercial fishing) activity and the Maui’s dolphin population’. ‘Meanwhile, Department of Conservation surveys have found Maui’s Dolphins well outside the currently protected area’ according to Mrs Rose.

‘Maui’s dolphins are Critically Endangered and will become extinct within a few decades if they are not better protected. An Expert Panel of independent national and international scientists concluded that five Maui’s dolphins are killed each year in gillnets and trawl nets. The Expert Panel estimated that Maui’s dolphin can’t sustain more than one human induced death every 10 to 23 years’. ‘But you don’t need to be a scientist to figure out that with a total population of 55 Maui’s dolphins, they’ll be extinct before too long at all’, says Mrs Rose.

Associate Professor Doctor Liz Slooten, a Maui’s dolphin expert based at the University of Otago, says “It’s hardly surprising that DOC and MPI officials back the recent decisions on Maui’s dolphins made by their Ministers. The question is not whether they support the decisions made by their own Ministers but whether the decisions will actually save Maui’s dolphin. In other words, are the current protection measures effective, based on the best available science and do marine mammal scientists support them?”

“In fact, the World’s top marine mammal scientists, the IWC and the IUCN have all recommended protection at least as far south as Hawera, out to the 100 m depth contour and including harbours”. “In 2013, the IWC clarified that no further research was needed and the New Zealand government needs to act now, on the basis of the already overwhelming scientific evidence. They also explained that all fishing methods known to kill whales and dolphins need to be completely removed from the habitat of Maui’s dolphins” says Dr Slooten.

Dr Slooten adds “So far, the New Zealand government has ignored all scientific advice, from New Zealand and international experts. DOC and MPI have continued to stand by while their Ministers make decisions that are not only irrational but also directly contradict their responsibilities under the Fisheries Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In addition, the recent decisions made by Fisheries Minister Nathan Guy and Conservation Minister Nick Smith contradict any notion of precautionary decision making. If Maui’s dolphins do go extinct, it would be appropriate to name this the “Nathan Guy and Nick Smith dolphin extinction”.


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