WWF claims that yesterday’s measures, launched by the New Zealand government in a bid to save the remaining 55 Maui’s dolphins from extinction, are destined to fail.
“There are now fewer Maui’s dolphins than kakapo left in the world,” said Rebecca Bird, WWF-New Zealand’s Marine Programme Manager. “And yet this decision means the government is knowingly allowing a method of fishing that kills dolphins to go ahead in their habitat. Instead of seizing the opportunity to give Maui’s the best chance for survival and population recovery, these measures are simply not enough to protect the species from extinction,” she said.
The interim measures will minimally increase protection on the Taranaki coast south from Pariokariwa Point to Hawera, including extending the set net ban out to 2-nautical miles and allowing the use of commercial set nets between 2 to 7 nautical miles when an observer is on board.
However, WWF say that the measures fail to adequately protect dolphins from commercial and recreational gillnet fishing and trawling throughout their entire range. Fishing is the number one threat to their survival. The marine corridor between the South and North Islands also remains largely unprotected, despite this being important habitat for the critically endangered dolphins.
“The newly announced measures are weaker than the government’s own proposed option to best manage the risk to Maui’s dolphins. After months of delay, it is shocking that there are still critical areas of Maui’s habitat where they could drown in gillnets and trawl nets,” said Ms Bird. “The measures also fail to protect the marine corridors that connect Hector’s dolphins from the south with Maui’s, which scientists consider could hold the key to the survival of the species.”
The Minister of Primary Industries announced the measures after public consultations and a lengthy delay, pending a review of the Hectors and Maui’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan later this year.
“This area should have been fully protected back in 2008 when the government introduced new fishing restrictions. Yet it has taken more dead dolphins, an obstructive legal challenge by the fishing industry and further evidence of a serious decline in the population before the government acted. A Maui’s dolphin was reported killed by a commercial fisher off the Taranaki in January, in an area of known dolphin habitat that we have long argued should be off limits to gill nets,” says Ms Bird.
“We need to do everything we can to ensure the decline of these dolphins is reversed. Small steps will not achieve this; we need bold measures and genuine leadership that will ensure a future for these dolphins.”
The official estimate placing the population of Maui’s dolphins at just 55 individuals over the age of one was released by the Department of Conservation in March this year. It was based on DNA sampling and profiling carried out by a team of scientists at Auckland University.
Government commissioned science indicates that we can only afford to lose one dolphin at the hands of humans every 10 to 23 years without impacting on the population’s ability to recover.
“We hope history will prove this not to be a case of too little, too late,” said Ms Bird. “WWF will continue to speak on behalf of the vast majority of New Zealanders who want strong government action to save this precious species. The global community are also watching. Maui’s are in such a precarious situation we simply cannot afford to lose a single dolphin.”