New Zealand Government action missing on Māui and Hector’s dolphins

18/03/2020

Aotearoa New Zealand has so many endangered species they have their own public relations advocate – the Department of Conservation’s (DoC) Threatened Species Ambassador.

Devastatingly, it’s estimated that up to 78 dolphin by-catch deaths occur per annum.

Image credit: Rob Pine

New Zealand is the only country in which Māui and Hector’s dolphins are found.

When five rare Hector’s dolphins were killed in a single net in 2018, the Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash, questioned whether gill-net fishing is even appropriate in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, among the Minister’s first acts in the Fisheries role, were to meet with seafood industry representatives and to cancel the previous Government’s plans for cameras on the commercial fishing fleet.

Christine Rose, World Animal Protection New Zealand Campaign Advisor, said:

“Increasing awareness of at-risk animals is no substitute for Government action to deliver real-world outcomes. That’s what’s been lacking in the race to save our unique, endemic animals from extinction.”

Devastatingly, it’s estimated that up to 78 dolphin by-catch deaths occur per annum.

In its current form, the Māui and Hector’s Dolphins Threat Management Plan (TMP) doesn’t go far enough on measures that would help to protect Māui and Hector’s dolphins.

The “crap” cover story offered up

Fishing net entanglement is the greatest known threat to Māui and Hector’s dolphins, NOT cat poo.

Incredibly, the draft TMP attributed an unrealistic number of deaths to “toxoplasmosis” – a parasite which ends up in the sea via cat faeces. And yet, the TMP has allowed for up to 100 dolphin deaths per annum as fishing by-catch. That’s 100 too many.

The TMP has also overstated costs and understated benefits of protections – especially the positive outcomes for the tourism industry.

Kicking the seafood can down the road

The Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation sought to “fast-track” a review of the TMP, looking at short-term changes to fishing practices, and “longer-term measures to better protect the dolphins from the risks of set netting and deaths caused by other human activity”.

The draft TMP was notified for public submissions in June 2019. Ministers signalled that recommendations from the Plan should be implemented by the end of 2019.

Despite the investment of around a million dollars, considerable resources from DoC and Fisheries NZ, consultants, independent scientists, non-governmental organisations, and the public, real action on the Māui and Hector’s Dolphins Threat Management Plan review has stalled.

These critically endangered dolphins action now or else there will come a day when politicians will only be able to offer their thoughts and prayers for Māui and Hector’s dolphins.