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Observers Fail To Show Up For Endangered Species

New evidence has emerged that New Zealand fishing vessels are operating with unsustainably low levels of observer coverage as they continue to fish in endangered species’ habitat, and the situation may be even worse with COVID-19 social distancing rules.

Deemed an ‘essential service’, commercial fishing boats in New Zealand continue to operate and it appears there are no observers on board - even where they’re mandatory - due to lock down restrictions.

Information obtained from MarineTraffic.com shows vessels are currently harvesting in the core habitat of the endangered Māui and Hector’s dolphins. within the 100-metre depth contour off the North Island’s West Coast.

Christine Rose, Campaign Advisor for World Animal Protection said:

“Fishing (including for export) is considered an ‘essential service’, whether it’s for the domestic or international market. But protecting the world’s most endangered dolphins is also essential. World Animal Protection is urging fishing boats to stay clear of the dolphin habitat, and act like they have observers during this time.

“Around the world people are sticking to their ‘bubbles’ to save lives, and this needs to apply to fishing boats and our rare dolphins.”

When looking into this issue, World Animal Protection uncovered an extreme lack of observer activity on fishing vessels, not just during the last few weeks, but the last three years.

Information obtained from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) website shows there have been no observers on high-medium risk vessels, and the number of completed observer sea days has continued to decline for the last three years.[1]

Table 1 (see ENDS) shows the number of planned observer sea days for 2019 was considerably higher than the number of days actually completed.

According to the MPI, fisheries observers are considered ‘critical to fisheries management’, helping to manage sustainability.

Observers also collect information about working conditions, environmental interactions (like catching protected species) and fish biology.[2]

World Animal Protection is deeply concerned for the reporting of by-catch during this period.

“Evidence has shown that when observers are on board, reporting rates of by-catch increase significantly,” Christine Rose said.

“Observer coverage is critical to ensure fishing and by-catch reporting practices are robust.”

The New Zealand Government is yet to release the Māui and Hector’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan, which was due to be finalised in late 2019.

“New Zealand is the only country in which Maui and Hector’s dolphins are found. There are only roughly 57 adult Māui dolphins left in the wild, and some Māui and Hector’s subpopulations number even lower.

“These dolphins are our responsibility. If we don’t act now, they will be driven to extinction. This would be an appalling act of negligence, and a disaster for our international reputation.”

[1] https://www.mpi.govt.nz/growing-and-harvesting/fisheries/operating-as-a-fisher/observer-services/

[2] https://www.mpi.govt.nz/about-us/careers/working-here/fisheries-observers/

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