New protection measures give dolphins fighting chance of survival, says WWF

Posted on
30 May 2008
WWF has welcomed today’s decision from the Government to bring in new protection for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins as a ‘good first step’ but says there is further to go to save the species.

“Today’s decision is a strong move by Jim Anderton. We’re very encouraged to see action to manage the main threats that have caused Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins to decline,” says WWF’s Marine Programme Manager Rebecca Bird. “After more than four years of sustained campaigning for their protection, today's decision gives Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins a fighting chance for survival.”

However, WWF and dolphin scientists are deeply concerned that the new measures don’t go far enough to allow the dolphins to recover back to their former abundance, saying the likely impact will be keeping dolphin numbers static at current depleted levels.

Liz Slooten, Associate Professor and dolphin scientist at Otago University said: “These protection measures seem designed to hold populations are current, depleted level, rather than at population recovery. Despite the fact that recovery to non-threatened status is specifically required under the MMPA, the word ‘recovery’ is not used anywhere in the Minister’s statement.”

“It means the dolphins will still be vulnerable to extinction,” says WWF’s Rebecca Bird. “When you’re dealing with the world’s rarest dolphin you can’t go for half measures in the face of extinction.”

WWF is campaigning for full protection for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, including a set net and trawl fishing ban, so they can recover to their former abundance and distribution.

WWF states the new measures mean:
  • Maui’s dolphins are not protected throughout their full range. Extending the set net ban into harbour entrances is a positive move. However Maui’s remain unprotected within harbours and consequently are still at risk from drowning in fishing nets. The government has failed to act on WWF sightings information and scientific acoustic pod data that indicates Maui’s range further inside harbours.
  • Maui’s remain unprotected in the southern extent of their current alongshore range, in the Taranaki region, despite this being critical habitat for the dolphins.
  • Extending set net bans further off shore to 7 nautical miles is positive for the dolphins, however the trawl fishing ban does not go far enough and involves a complex set of management measures. WWF is concerned that the government will have difficulty enforcing measures and monitoring compliance, despite the extensive increase in observer coverage also announced.
  • The west coast population of Hector’s dolphins come off worst. The government’s focus appears to be on protecting core populations that are deemed to be the most at risk. Hector’s dolphins along the west coast are not protected at all from trawl fishing and only given limited protection from set nets. This means dolphins will continue to die in fishing nets in this region.
  • Around the South Island south coast, dolphins remain unprotected from set nets in harbours, estuaries and inlets and it’s unclear what the government’s intentions are regarding trawl fishing in this area, which indicates it will remain a key threat in this region.
  • South Island east coast protection measures are vague – again it is unclear whether trawl fishing gear restrictions will be adequate to ensure dolphins do not get caught and whether set net restrictions will be extensive enough. This is particularly of concern around the Kaikoura region.
WWF’s Rebecca Bird said: “We’re heartened by the Government’s concerted effort to protect our dolphins, but this is just a first step. We challenge the government now to produce a species recovery plan that is futuristic and visionary – addressing some of the threats is simply not enough. We want a future where Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are abundant throughout their natural range, and not threatened with extinction.”

She added: “The acting Conservation Minister today announced four new marine mammal sanctuaries – again, a step in the right direction, but it is unclear what level of protection these will offer, so we will be seeking clarification. Sadly Ministers haven’t extended the Banks Peninsula marine mammal sanctuary, despite extensive science that shows this would offer significant protection and benefits for the species’ survival. This measure would also benefit the dolphin tourism industry that sustains the local economy, an industry which nationally contributes an estimated $24million per year to the New Zealand economy.”

To find out more about WWF’s campaign to save Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins, go to www.stoptheirextinction.org.nz

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