Observers fail to show up for endangered Māui and Hector’s dolphins

17/04/2020

Commercial fishing boats in New Zealand have been deemed an “essential service” and therefore continue to operate. Alarmingly though, due to lockdown restrictions, it appears there are no observers on board, even where they are mandatory.

“When observers are on board, reporting rates of by-catch increase significantly. Observer coverage is critical to ensure fishing and by-catch reporting practices are robust.”

Information obtained from MarineTraffic.com shows that vessels are currently fishing in the endangered Māui and Hector’s dolphins’ core habitat off the North Island’s West Coast.

Who are observers?

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), fisheries observers are considered “critical to fisheries management” as they help to manage sustainability. Observers also collect information about working conditions, environmental interactions (like catching protected species) and fish biology.

When looking into this issue, World Animal Protection discovered an extreme lack of observer activity on fishing vessels, not only over the past few weeks, but the past three years.

According to the MPI website, there have been no observers on high-medium risk vessels, and the number of completed observer sea days has continued to decline for the past three years. The number of planned observer sea days for 2019 was considerably higher than the number of days actually completed.

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. We are urging fishing boats to stay clear of the dolphin habitat and act like they have observers during this time.”

Why are observers so important?

Observers are vital to the accurate reporting of protected and endangered species being caught.

“When observers are on board, reporting rates of by-catch increase significantly. Observer coverage is critical to ensure fishing and by-catch reporting practices are robust.”

Christine Rose, Campaign Advisor for World Animal Protection

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.

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.

If we don’t act now, they will be driven to extinction. This would be an appalling act of negligence and a disaster for New Zealand’s international reputation.