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WWF call for govt action to save Māui dolphins endorsed

International scientists endorse WWF call for government action to save Māui dolphins

For the fifth year in a row, leading international scientists have urged the New Zealand government to remove set netting (also called gillnetting) and conventional trawling from Māui dolphin habitat, to save the world’s smallest and rarest marine dolphin from extinction. The message is clear: New Zealand’s Māui dolphins need urgent action now.

The 2017 International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee report released today again expressed grave concern for New Zealand’s critically endangered Māui dolphins. The Scientific Committee agreed that the New Zealand government must support fishing communities, companies and people to develop different kinds of fishing that are safe for dolphins. The report noted that the New Zealand government has enacted “no new management action” to protect Māui dolphins since 2013.

The report recognised that government action was vital and noted that existing management measures in relation to by-catch mitigation fell short of what the IWC had previously recommended.

“The Scientific Committee’s conclusions are clear: the New Zealand government needs to step up to save our unique, beautiful Māui dolphins,” said David Tong, WWF-New Zealand Campaigner. “WWF submitted a paper calling for the government to engage with fishing communities and suggesting a possible solution – and it’s great to see the IWC Committee specifically endorsing this paper’s conclusions.”

“No more excuses. Māui dolphins can be saved from extinction if our government ends set netting and conventional trawling across their whole known habitat and supports affected people and communities to move to kinds of fishing that are safe for dolphins.”

The report urges the New Zealand government to protect Māui dolphins across their whole habitat, from Maunganui Bluff in Northland to Whanganui, offshore to 20 nautical miles and inside harbours.

“Less than 30% of Māui habitat is protected from set netting and only 8% is protected from both set net and conventional trawling,” Mr Tong said. “Prime Minister Bill English and Minister Nathan Guy need to take action to fully protect Māui dolphins across their entire range.”

In April, WWF-New Zealand released a Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) report, which estimated that the government could support fishing people and communities to switch to dolphin-safe fishing in the Māui dolphin habitat for as little as $26 million.

“Our government can do what the world’s foremost scientists are urging them to, while protecting fishing communities’ lifestyles and livelihoods, for a cost that is only 0.03% of the government’s annual budget,” Mr Tong said.

The IWC report noted that parts of the fishing industry are taking proactive steps towards removing fishing threats to Māui dolphins. Moana New Zealand and Sanford Limited have committed to removing set nets and conventional trawling from Māui dolphin habitat over the next five years.

Recent polling shows that 75% of New Zealanders think the government should financially assist fishing people and communities to switch to dolphin-safe fishing methods in Māui dolphin habitat.

"With leadership from fishing companies and strong public support, there is a growing momentum to find lasting solutions to save our Māui dolphins from extinction,” Mr Tong said.

“Lack of government commitment is the major obstacle to finding solutions that will work for both the Māui dolphins and fishing communities."


1. Report of the Scientific Report, International Whaling Commission May 2017

Key Māui dolphins references on pages 68 and 95-96, including:

13.5 Scientific aspects of mitigation measures for small cetaceans 13.5.1 Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins in New Zealand

The Committee agrees that the evidence presented suggests that longlines are a potential alternative to reduce risk from the set nets and trawling currently associated with bycatch of Māui dolphin and that this should be investigated. It recognises that Government support is required to develop and implement such alternatives and assess any associated impacts on target catch or other marine species.

17.7 Progress on previous recommendations 17.7.1 Māui dolphin

The Committee notes that no new management action regarding the Māui dolphin has been enacted since 2013. It therefore concludes, 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 expresses continued grave concern over the status of this small, severely depleted subspecies.

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