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Maui’s death in set net takes species closer to extinction

WWF-New Zealand media release

For immediate release

1 Feb 2012

Maui’s death in set net takes species one step closer to extinction

Reports that an endangered Maui’s dolphin has been killed in a fishing net off the coast of Taranaki should serve as a wake up call that current protection measures are insufficient and a total ban on set nets is needed throughout their current and historical range to save the species, warns WWF.

WWF-New Zealand’s Executive Director Chris Howe says: “This death of a Maui’s dolphin is a tragedy for a species that is down to only about 100 individuals. Set nets in Maui’s habitat continue to pose an unacceptable risk to these dolphins. Until we get set nets out of the shallow coastal waters where they live, more Maui’s will needlessly get entangled and drown. The species could be extinct within our generation without urgent action.”

Maui’s dolphins, a subspecies of the South Island’s Hector’s dolphins, are found only off the west coast of the North Island. They are the world’s rarest marine dolphin, classified internationally as critically endangered.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) yesterday released a statement saying they believe that the dead animal was a Maui’s, not a Hector’s dolphin as originally reported, because of the location of its death. The dead dolphin was returned to the sea by the fisher. MAF claimed the death “occurred outside of the current known range of Maui’s dolphins, as well as outside the current restrictions.”

However there have been independent verified sightings of Maui’s dolphins in the coastal waters off Taranaki in recent years, and WWF-New Zealand is urging MAF and the government to extend protection measures throughout the Maui’s historical range to give the species the best chance of survival and recovery.

Despite fishing restrictions announced in 2008, Maui’s are not currently protected throughout their entire range. WWF is calling on the government to extend protection measures into harbours and the southern extent of their current range, along with better monitoring and policing of regulations.

WWF- New Zealand is urging all members of the public who see a Maui’s dolphin – noted for their rounded dorsal fin - to report it to a special sightings hotline, 0800 4 MAUIS. Mr Howe says: “Every sighting of one of these rare and precious dolphins matters. The more we know about where Maui’s range and their movements, the better we can protect them.

“WWF will continue to speak out on behalf of all those New Zealanders who want to stop the extinction of Maui’s dolphins, and urge the government to extend the current protection measures before it is too late.”


Ends

Notes to editors
–The last robust population estimate for Maui’s was published in 2006 – indicating just 111 dolphins remain. An updated population estimate for Maui's dolphins is expected to be released shortly by the Department of Conservation.

The Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 protects all dolphins, seals and whales from deliberate human disturbance and harassment in New Zealand waters, and restricts the right to take any marine mammal (dead or alive) from their natural habitat without a permit.

The West Coast North Island marine mammal sanctuary was implemented in 2003. The boundaries extend from Northland (Maunganui Bluff) to Taranaki (Oakura Beach) and 12 nm offshore.

Significant protection was only afforded to Maui’s through fishing restrictions announced in 2008, Maui’s are not currently protected throughout their entire range. Current protection measures include:
- set net bans from harbour entrances
- set nets bans out to 7 nm for part of NI west coast
- no trawling out to 2nm for part of NI west coast
- restriction on seabed mining and acoustic seismic surveys

However harbours and the southern end of their range remain unprotected, regulations are confusing, management measures (particularly the trawl fishing ban) are complex and there is not enough monitoring and policing of regulations. Measures are still insufficient to allow the species to recover.

WWF is calling for a nationwide ban on gill nets, restrictions on trawl fishing in waters less than 100m deep where the dolphins are found and full protection for Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins across their entire current range and areas where they were found in the past.

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