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Trawlers Getting Away With Murder’ According To New ‘Extinction Watch’, Māui And Hector’s Dolphins Mortality Tracker

A new tool for monitoring the deaths of endangered Māui and Hector’s dolphins shows trawlers are 'getting away with murder', according to conservation group Māui and Hector’s Dolphin Defenders NZ.

The ‘Death Watch’ Mortality Tracker keeps a rolling record of Māui and Hector’s deaths, and categorises them according to information in the Department of Conservation Incident Database.

The Mortality Tracker highlights trends in dolphin deaths, with new insights now that there are cameras onboard some fishing vessels.

Dolphin Defenders Chair Christine Rose says ‘The industrial fishing industry always claimed trawlers didn’t catch dolphins. That’s why the historic focus for fisheries management has been on the set net sector. But with the rollout of cameras on boats, it’s clear that trawlers are the enemy of Hector’s dolphins."

"Trawlers are getting away with murder,” says Rose.

“Before the roll-out of onboard cameras, dead dolphins were mostly reported as beachcast, washed up on the shore.

Beachcast dolphins may not always be retrieved and bodies are sometimes too decomposed to be analysed for cause of death,” says Mrs Rose.

In the year before onboard cameras there were two dolphins reported dead in trawl nets. In the 15 months since the roll out of cameras, there have been ten. A 500% increase.

The onboard camera roll out shows that only a quarter into 2024, Hector’s dolphin deaths from the trawl fishing industry are three times the 2022 year’s total figure and half again on top of the 2023 total.

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Christine Rose says “The new “Extinction Watch” Mortality Tracker makes dolphin deaths and causes of death clearer. Trends are evident."

“Increased reporting from the roll out of onboard cameras is revealing the real and direct cause of dolphin deaths - predominantly, the trawl fishing industry”.

Rose says ‘Trawlers and dolphins can not co-exist. Too many dolphins are being killed.” 

Rose adds “Behind the numbers are real dolphin lives. Among those killed are multiple dolphins in the same nets, including mother dolphins and their suckling calves".

"In the last eighteen months at least two mother-calf dolphin pairs have been killed by the trawl fishing industry. Every dolphin life matters, and the Mortality Tracker keeps those lives in sight. Sadly however, it monitors the path to extinction".

Māui and Hector’s Dolphin Defenders call for the dolphins to be protected throughout their range. Currently only a small portion of their habitat is protected from the impacts of the fishing industry.

Rose says the Mortality Tracker clearly shows more protection is needed. “While the new onboard cameras are shining a light on dolphin deaths, what’s needed now is action.”

“The Government must remove the extinction level threats from all Hector’s habitat. There’s also an important backstop role for regional councils to protect Hector’s in their Regional (Coastal) Plans. 80% of Hector’s deaths in the last year have been in Canterbury. That’s why we’re calling on ECan to protect Hector’s through its regional plan.”

The 'Extinction Watch Mortality Tracker' is here:

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