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‘Protecting Hector’s Means Prohibiting Set And Trawl Nets’ Say Advocates

Fisheries New Zealand has been consulting on protection options for South Island Hector’s dolphins. Submissions close today Monday 6 December at 5pm. But dolphin advocates say Fisheries officials' recommendations are fundamentally flawed.

The consultation process is a response to the 2020 Hector’s dolphin Threat Management Plan which extended set net bans in some of the dolphin habitat, but deferred consideration on trawling.

‘This consultation should pick up where the last plan left off, and consider the risk of displaced fishing, as well as fishing in areas without protection from trawling at all’, says Chair of Māui and Hector’s Dolphin Defenders Christine Rose.

‘Instead, this plan displaces real action. It recommends voluntary, novel approaches under a ‘Bycatch Reduction Plan’.

Instead of actually protecting the dolphins this would ‘manage them to extinction’, because it allows up to 80 Hector’s dolphin deaths a year.'

Rose says ‘Hector’s dolphins are made up of small local groups who stay close to home and don’t travel far. They were once the most common New Zealand dolphin but they have been decimated by trawling and set nets’.

Rose says ‘The allowance of dozens of dolphin deaths per annum is ecologically irresponsible’.

‘Every dolphin that dies in fishing gear dies an unnecessary and painful death. Because dolphins are social animals, this has impact on the wider group. Sometimes the wider group itself is entangled and they all drown and die at once. Other times pregnant females are caught. If the sex ratio of subpopulations is skewed, the loss of females can have disproportionate effect.’

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Dolphin Defenders NZ Deputy Chair and Christchurch campaigner Genevieve Robinson says ‘We need to protect the entire range of all Hector’s populations while also treating each population as unique, with unique risks and vulnerabilities. That means protecting the river mouths, harbours and estuaries from all forms of net fishing’.

Robinson says ‘it’s unfortunate the Department of Conservation and others were not part of this consultation document, which would have led to better, integrated advice’.

Rose says ‘It’s time to move beyond failed past voluntary efforts, and to reject unproven and unenforceable new ones like Bycatch Reduction Plans, Protected Species Risk Management Plans, Low Headline Height trawls and Slow Trawl Speeds.’

These are flawed as methods to address the biodiversity crisis which is seen in Hector’s dolphins’ decline’.

Rose says the non-binding, incremental options suggested are ‘a reflection of industry capture and of the inertia against the inevitable set and trawl net prohibition required to stop dolphins getting caught in nets and drowning’.

‘It’s time to prohibit set and trawl nets throughout the dolphin range once and for all’.

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