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Fishing industry must follow through on dolphin protection

NABU: New Zealand’s fishing industry must follow through on Māui dolphin protection

Berlin – Last week fishing companies Sanford and Moana New Zealand announced plans to eliminate fishing-related threats to Māui dolphins across their range in a bid to prevent their extinction. But the industry’s plans will miss their mark unless they are rolled out across the area’s entire fishing fleet, and their scope and schedule of implementation are brought in line with scientific necessity.

Māui dolphins are the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphin. Since the 1970s, entanglement in fishing nets has driven down the population by more than 95 percent. Only a tiny remnant population of some 50 individuals survives off the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

Sanford and Moana New Zealand’s plans include the end of gillnet fishing under the companies’ catch entitlements in part of the dolphins’ northern habitat from October 2017. The companies plan to continue their trawl fishery across of the dolphins’ home until at least December 2022.

“The survival of a quarter of the world’s mammals is threatened,” says Thomas Tennhardt, CEO of NABU International. “New Zealand’s Māuis dolphins share life at the very cusp of extinction with animals such as lowland gorillas, Sumatran tigers and Javan rhinos, which far outnumber them. Globally, at least 308,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die from entanglement in fishing gear each year. Gillnetting and trawling are known to pose the greatest risk. While we welcome Sanford and Moana New Zealand’s gesture, the proposed timeframe and range of measures proposed will not prevent the demise of New Zealand’s most endangered inhabitants.”

“More than 100 commercial gillnet vessels operate in the dolphins’ habitat,” explains NABU International’s Head of Endangered Species Conservation, Dr Barbara Maas. “Sanford and Moana New Zealand’s proposals would merely reduce this number by five boats ten months from now.”

“Because there are no recognised dolphin safe trawling methods, trawling by the companies’ and other inshore fleets is set to continue across 95 percent of the dolphins’ home for a further six years. Our calculations indicate that Māui dolphin numbers will drop well below 30 by 2020, the equivalent of just 7 breeding females. We simply can’t wait if we want to ensure Māuis survive or ‘recover and expand’, as envisaged by Sanford and Moana New Zealand.”

NABU International has been fighting for a science-based conservation regime for Māui dolphins for many years. This includes raising awareness that fishing poses a serious threat to the dolphins’ survival and their habitat boundaries from Maunganui Bluff in the north to Whanganui in the south out to a water depth of 100m, including harbours. To ensure the dolphins’ survival, the organisation has also been advocating the development of a socio-economic compensation strategy to support the transition of affected fishermen to alternative livelihoods or sustainable, selective fishing methods that do not impact Māuis dolphins or other protected species.

“We commend Sanford and Moana New Zealand for being the first fishing companies to acknowledge these scientific realities,” says Maas. “Unless this new basis of understanding is translated into comprehensive action, trawling and gillnet will continue to decimate New Zealand’s beleaguered dolphins.”


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