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Nathan Guy out of step with public opinion on dolphins

Embargoed for 12:01am, 6 April 2017

New poll reveals Nathan Guy out of step with public opinion on dolphin protection

An opinion poll published today shows the Minister for Primary Industries, Hon. Nathan Guy MP, is out of step with public opinion on protecting the critically endangered Māui dolphin, said WWF-New Zealand.

The recent poll, conducted by respected opinion research company Colmar Brunton, asked if people think the government should financially assist fishers to transition to dolphin-safe fishing methods in Māui dolphin habitat. 75% said yes, 13% said no, 12% were unsure.

Commenting on the poll, Peter Hardstaff, Head of Campaigns for WWF-New Zealand said: “We know that the vast majority of New Zealanders want dolphin-safe fishing in Māui dolphin habitat and this poll shows very strong public support for the government to step in and help fishers make the transition”.

“Instead of getting on with it, Nathan Guy is arguing about where the dolphins live and claiming current measures are adequate, despite a string of scientific recommendations to the contrary,” Mr Hardstaff said. “Fishing restrictions cover only about 40% of Māui habitat. The Minister for Primary Industries is out of step with public opinion and out of step with the science.

“The Māui dolphin population is now estimated to be as low as 63 over the age of one. The future of this dolphin continues to hang in the balance which means the main threats – set netting and trawling – should be removed. The government should be doing the maximum possible rather than the minimum it can get away with.”

For four years now, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has called for the New Zealand government to take further action. In 2016, the IWC’s small cetaceans sub-committee concluded that existing measures fall short of what is required to protect Māui dolphins and recommended removing the known fishing threats from the entire range.

“We want to see fishing co-exist with Māui dolphins, but we recognise that a shift to dolphin-safe methods will be a major challenge for many fishers on the West Coast of the North Island,” Mr Hardstaff said. “We are urging the government to assist with this transition and this polling shows that 75% of New Zealanders think the same way.”

Research released earlier this week estimates that the transition could cost the government as little as $26 million, equivalent to three years of Ministerial travel expenses.


1. As attached, Colmar Brunton Report – Attitudes towards Government assistance for commercial fishers to transition to safer methods of fishing (January 2017).

2. On 3 April 2017, WWF-New Zealand released a report by Business Economic Research Limited (BERL) that estimated that the cost to government of ending set netting and conventional trawling across the whole Māui habitat and supporting fishing communities and people would be between $26 and $40 million.

3. The known range of Māui dolphins is: Maunganui Bluff in the north to Whanganui River mouth in the south, offshore to the 100 metre depth contour, and includes harbours. The 20 nautical mile boundary is also used as a proxy for the offshore range.

4. International Whaling Commission Small Cetaceans Sub-Committee conclusions on Māui dolphins, June 2016 (pages 16-18)

“Given the information presented this year, the sub-committee concluded, as it has repeatedly in the past, that existing management measures in relation to bycatch mitigation fall short of what has been recommended previously and expressed continued grave concern over the status of this small, severely depleted subspecies. The human-caused death of even one individual would increase the extinction risk. The sub-committee reiterated its previous recommendation that highest priority should be assigned to immediate management actions to eliminate bycatch of Māui dolphins. This includes closures of any fisheries within the range of Māui dolphins that are known to pose a risk of bycatch to dolphins (i.e. set net and trawl fisheries). It re-emphasised that the critically endangered status of this subspecies and the inherent and irresolvable uncertainty surrounding information on most small populations point to the need for precautionary management.

Ensuring full protection of Māui dolphins throughout their known range, together with an ample buffer zone, would minimise the risk of bycatch and maximise the chances of population increase. The sub-committee noted that the confirmed current range extends from Maunganui Bluff in the north to Whanganui in the south, offshore to 20 nm, and it includes harbours. Within this defined area, fishing methods other than set nets and trawling should be used. The sub-committee again urged the New Zealand Government to commit to specific population increase targets and timelines for Māui dolphin conservation, and again respectfully requested that reports be provided annually on progress towards the conservation and recovery goals.”

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