Māui and Hector’s dolphin Threat Management Plan background Q & A
What is the Threat Management Plan (TMP) Process?The Threat Management Plan (TMP) proposed options were launched by the Government in June 2019. These options are the government’s suggested solutions to save Hector’s and Māui dolphins, among the world’s rarest mammals, from a range of human-induced threats. They identified these threats to include: fishing, seismic surveying, and the disease toxoplasmosis. The TMP will change the way the Government manages the threats facing Hector’s and Māui dolphins.
Per Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the options include:
- extending current restrictions on trawling and set netting in areas where Hector’s and Māui dolphins live
- increasing the boundaries of marine mammal sanctuaries
- placing further restrictions on seismic surveying and seabed mining in areas where Hector’s and Māui dolphins live
- developing an action plan to address the threat from the disease toxoplasmosis, which has emerged as a possible significant human-induced threat.
The consultation process closed 19 August 2019.
What is Option 5?
Option 5 is a joint submission - developed in collaboration by WWF-New Zealand, and two fishing companies Sanford Ltd. and Moana NZ - on the Government’s TMP proposals 2019. We took this collaborative approach to build on our successful conservation action the Māui Dolphin Protection Plan (MDPP) and to help our partners go even further to remove threats.
Option 5 calls for a holistic threat management plan. It sets out proposals for removing dangerous fishing nets from Māui dolphin habitat, and actions to address threats such as toxoplasmosis, pollution, oil & gas exploration, and the effects of climate change. It also proposes the development of powerful new technologies and tools to gather better intelligence about Māui dolphins and their habitat.
The joint proposals are focused on effective protection of both Māui dolphins and the people affected by the necessary conservation action. They include:
- Fisheries restrictions in line with the Government’s fisheries threat reduction goal, and full government support for a just transition for those affected
- Gathering vital data and building science about how and where to focus threat management. This includes developing technology that could enable real-time monitoring of dolphins. Plus, new conservation actions, to be rolled out by the Option 5 fishing partners across their fishing vessels and their contractors, that will use cutting edge science and technology to reduce fishing threats to Māui dolphins; and
- Implementing new dolphin-safe education programs to go along with the new technology-enabled fisheries threat management tools.
- Research plan of action to address other threats to Māui dolphins, such as toxoplasmosis.
Regardless of decisions made by the Government in this new TMP, Moana and Sanford are committed to implementing the restricted fishing zones and many other recommendations in Option 5.
Why did WWF-New Zealand collaborate with industry to make Option 5?
The critically vulnerable state of the tiny Māui dolphin population means we have to pull out all the stops. This includes working with all groups who want to make a positive difference. For 15 years, we have called for immediate Government action to remove threats from the entire Māui dolphin habitat. Due to inaction by successive governments, we worked with Moana and Sanford fishing companies who were proactive and ready to take real action.
By working with our fishing partners, we have already achieved real threat removal and want to build on this success. Together we developed a joint submission on the Government’s TMP proposals, which built up on the success of the 2016 Māui Dolphin Protection Plan (MPDD), and have helped our partners go even further to remove the remaining fisheries threats to Māui dolphins.
Major conservation benefits we have been able to achieve with our fishing partners include: the stopping of set netting and selling of fish caught by set nets by all Moana and Sanford fishers within the Māui dolphin habitat; and commitments to remove conventional trawling from the entire habitat from 2022.
WWF-New Zealand wants all dolphin unsafe fishing removed from the habitat and a just transition to dolphin-safe fishing for affected communities. WWF’s collaborative relationship with industry leaders gives us the unique opportunity to help drive change from within the industry towards this goal.
What about Hector’s Dolphins?
Māui dolphins are on the brink of extinction, the most endangered population of marine dolphins in the world, which is why we primarily focused on them with our partners. However, Hector’s populations are also at risk from multiple threats, and WWF-New Zealand made a separate substantial submission focused on Hector's Dolphins. We proposed reducing fishing mortality to enable thriving resilient populations and connectivity between populations, utilising real-time intelligence gathering, and building science to inform effective management of non-fisheries threats.
How deadly is toxoplasmosis?Not enough is known about the disease toxoplasmosis, but we do know it is killing Māui and Hector’s dolphins. Māui dolphin population modelling, by world renowned modeller Justin Cook, clearly shows we need to reduce all human threats, including toxoplasmosis, by 50%- 75% in the next ten years to stop extinction while committing to significant threat reduction in the next five years. New Zealand must commit to building our knowledge of the effects of toxoplasmosis. We must then take this knowledge and implement swift, effective action to mitigate its negative impacts.
Option 5 called for the establishment of a Toxoplasmosis Research and Communications Agency to enable expert collaboration and information sharing about toxoplasmosis, build essential knowledge, and establish and implement an effective research and management plan to:
- identify the strain/s of toxoplasmosis lethal to dolphins and other native species;
- identify where lethal strain/s (geographical or animal-specific) are located – and how and where those strains are entering waterways;
- collaborate with industry to assess and adapt existing diagnostic tools (such as the fluorescence polarisation assay used for diagnosis and control of brucellosis) or create new tools to establish if potential hot spots of contamination can be ring fenced for targeted management;
- research toxoplasmosis vaccines and assess their suitability for New Zealand conditions
How will real-time monitoring be accomplished?
Cameras on boats and observers on vessels are a good start for gathering data on Māui dolphins and fishing interactions, however there are new, more powerful tools in development that have the potential to revolutionise monitoring. For example, using artificial intelligence-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with the potential capability to find, follow, and provide information about Māui dolphins, and their habitat, in real time.
This technology is currently being explored and developed.
Is this technology ‘untested’?
A lot of work has already been done to develop the technology and initial testing of the Drone coupled with Artificial Intelligence software shows that it is capable of detecting Maui and Hectors dolphins specifically, with very high accuracy. A robust science and technology development process over the next year will comprehensively test and develop the technology and survey and dolphin tracking methodology further.
What will the Option 5 fishing partners do with real-time information?
The development of real-time monitoring of dolphin locations and an automated alert system will enable the fishing partners to develop an effective ‘move-on’ rule, which is something that they are committed to doing. The purpose of the move-on rule is to enable their vessels to actively avoid coming within 10 nautical miles of a Māui dolphin.
Moana and Sanford’s move on rule will be developed in conjunction with new real-time monitoring tools and processes.
WWF-New Zealand is supporting the research and development of new monitoring tools and methods, and the exploration and of how these can be used in management of threats to Māui dolphins.
Additional Q & A
Why did WWF not advocate for the same as all the other NGOs?
WWF collaborative approach gives us the unique opportunity to help drive change from within the industry in order to progressively remove the remaining fisheries threats to Māui dolphins. WWF is the one of the only NGOs to have these existing, positive, relationships with industry that allows us to drive change in this manner.
Why is WWF-New Zealand working with the fishing industry?
WWF-New Zealand wants all dolphin unsafe fishing removed from the habitat and a just transition to dolphin-safe fishing for affected communities. However, as WWF is the one of the only NGOs to have existing, positive, relationships with industry - we are able to work with and to drive change from within the industry. With the Māui dolphin being near extinction, we will work with all groups who want to make a positive difference. For 15 years, we have called for immediate action by Government to remove threats from the entire Māui dolphin habitat. Due to inaction by successive governments, we worked with Moana and Sanford- fishing companies who were proactive and ready to take real action.
By working with our fishing partners, we have already achieved real threat removal and want to build on this success. In 2015, WWF, Moana, and Sanford collaborated to create the Māui Dolphin Protection Plan (MDPP) in order to advance Māui Dolphin conservation. Major conservation benefits emerging from this work include: the stopping of set netting and selling of fish caught by set net by all Moana and Sanford fishers within the habitat North of New Plymouth and out to the 100m depth contour of the West Coast (North Island), and commitments to removing conventional trawling from the entire Māui dolphin habitat from 2022. We worked with our fishing partners again to develop a joint submission on the Government’s TMP proposals 2019 which we called ‘Option 5’ and built upon the previous success of the MPDD by moving our partners even further to remove threats.
What has our partnership achieved for Māui dolphins since 2015?
- Moana and Sanford do not fish with set net or sell any fish caught by coastal set-netters within the Māui Dolphin habitat North of New Plymouth to Maunganui Bluff and out to 100m depth contour of the West Coast North Island.
- Enabled vessels’ locations to be tracked via mobile app - thereby improving science about fishing risk in harbours within the Māui Dolphin habitat.
- Companies committed to removing conventional trawling after 2022, i.e. move to dolphin safe fishing only.
Is WWF’s approach to saving Maui dolphins aligned with the best practice “precautionary principle”?
The precautionary principle means we should not wait around for perfect scientific information before taking conservation action. Lack of data, particularly regarding the Māui dolphin range, has been one of the most damaging excuses for delays in management action. WWF-New Zealand is focused on finding ways to take action and make progress towards threat reduction now, while successive governments have delayed action. Our fishing industry partners have also taken action to reduce the risk of killing a Māui dolphin in their fishing operations, without waiting for perfect science about where the dolphins swim. This is the precautionary approach in action.
WWF internationally advocates to remove all fishing nets from the area, why is WWF-New Zealand proposing something different?
WWF-New Zealand is aligned with our international network in calling for immediate removal of all human threats (such as set-nets, toxoplasmosis, plastics, etc.) from the Māui Dolphin habitat. However our collaborative approach means we can look for ways to make progress now, and not wait for Government-led action. We’ve called on successive Governments, over the last 15 years, to take action. Yet, they have provided no new regulations since 2013. So, while the Government stood still, we partnered with fishing Industry leaders who were ready to move, and take real positive steps to address threats from fishing.
Working together with those who want to help bring people in harmony with nature is what WWF does all around the world. This is also what we have done here. Māui dolphins need immediate threat removal. We hope the Government will step up and provide this. However, we will not and cannot wait for Government action and continue to work with proactive industry leaders.
WWF is a science-led organisation. The science building and innovative conservation technology, we are developing with our partners, will enable threat management to continue to improve.
Does WWF receive money from Moana and Sanford?
Moana and WWF have had an independent partnership since 2014, in which Moana funds WWF to help the company transition to becoming leaders in sustainable in-shore fishing and aquaculture in New Zealand. The work conducted by WWF includes:
- Collaborative development of the Māui Dolphin Protection Plan (2016)
- Input into the development of environmental policies and work programmes, including: sustainable fisheries, traceability, and reduction of waste & plastic.
- Input into Moana’s sustainability strategy and support work to achieve, and surpass, strategy targets and goals.
In 2015, WWF supported Moana and Sanford in the creation of the Māui Dolphin Protection plan. This scope of work led to the development of Option 5. However, it’s important to differentiate this work from the independent relationship with Moana. Option 5 falls outside this relationship and all three have come to the table voluntarily to find the best way forward for the Māui dolphin.
Does working with Industry affect our independence?
We have active collaborative relationships with our partners, but we remain independent. Our working relationship focuses on collaboration in order to meet our conservation and sustainability goals. We agree to disagree with our partners where needed. For example, we pushed for stronger spatial fisheries closures in our joint submission than our partners did. We continue to support and enable our fisheries partners to meet their dolphin protection commitments and go even further whenever possible.
We understand there are risks associated with such an approach, in particular, potential risks to our independence. This is why we have in place strict guidelines and practices to ensure we are transparent in our approach, achieving measurable conservation outcomes, and upholding respect for WWF’s independence and mission.