After years of consultation with stakeholders, including New Zealand’s fishing industry, extensive and much needed new protection measures were agreed and implemented in 2008. Following the announcement of the new regulations, the fishing industry nevertheless brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court, challenging six of these measures. Two of issues were referred back to you for...
After years of consultation with stakeholders, including New Zealand’s fishing industry, extensive and much needed new protection measures were agreed and implemented in 2008. Following the announcement of the new regulations, the fishing industry nevertheless brought judicial review proceedings in the High Court, challenging six of these measures. Two of issues were referred back to you for reconsideration by the Court in 2009.
While the new protection measures are a major step forward, they are not sufficient to facilitate population recovery, which is the key to averting extinction. As part of the current consultation on this issue, I would like to urge you to uphold
a) the extension of the set net closure for commercial fishers on the West Coast North Island (WCNI) to include the area between 4 and 7 nm (Option 3) to support population recovery of the Critically Endangered Maui’s dolphin; and
b) the inclusion of commercial targeted butterfish fishery in the closure of part of the East Coast South Island (ECSI) to set net fishing to support recovery of the Endangered Hector’s dolphin (Option 3).
Hector’s dolphin populations are severely depleted as a result of commercial and recreational fishing. Numbers have dropped from more than 29,000 in 1970 to less than 8,000 individuals today. North Island Hector’s dolphins, also known as Maui’s dolphins, have been worst affected. With a population size of some 100 individuals, of which less than 30 are breeding females, Maui’s dolphins are facing acute extinction.
For the last decade or so, biologists and conservationists have called for a nationwide ban on gillnets, for observers to be put on trawl vessels to determine how many dolphins die in this fishery, and for the careful management of other threats, such as pollution, marine mining and aquaculture and others.
As stated above, even the full set of measures announced in 2008, would not reduce dolphin bycatch to sustainable levels. The species as a whole is predicted to decline by at least another 600 individuals by 2050. In the absence of fisheries bycatch, on the other hand, the population could recover to at least half of their original population size within decades. However, the models used to assess population decline and risk for Hector’s dolphins only consider mortality caused by commercial gillnets and do not include deaths in the recreational gillnet or trawl fisheries. As a result, current figures on population decline reflect a best case scenario and underestimate the threat of fishing-related mortality. Yet even these optimistic conditions would merely afford Hector’s dolphins a 50% chance of recovery to half their 1970 levels by 2050. To ensure the species’ recovery, all gillnets and trawl nets must be removed from the species’ habitat in in waters up to 100m deep.
Maui’s dolphins number less than 120 and are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. They are “facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future”, which leaves no margin for error. The chance of spotting them to determine exactly how far they travel offshore is extremely low and the importance of existing sightings is considerable. However, scientific experts, representatives of the fishing industry, iwi, conservationists and other interested groups agree that the population can absorb no more than one fishing-related dolphin death every five years. It is therefore paramount that fisheries mortality must be brought as close to zero as possible to preserve any chance of population recovery. I therefore urge you not to curb, but extend protection measures for Maui’s dolphins to include the largest possible range offshore and further south. Likewise, protection in Tasman Bay and Golden Bay would provide a pool of potential recruits to replenish dolphins lost from the North Island population.
An exemption for fishermen targeting butterfish off Marlborough is without biological foundation. The highest densities of Hector’s dolphins are found close to shore and there is no reason to assume that butterfish nets are less likely to catch Hector’s dolphins. Two years have elapsed during which the Ministry of Fisheries could have gathered information to estimate the risk of butterfish gillnets to Hector’s dolphins through fisheries observers. Yet, according to available reports, observers covered a mere nine fishing days at the end of 2008. Similarly, it appears that no surveys have been commissioned to determine the distribution of Hector’s dolphins in and around the proposed butterfish areas under review. This lack of research to assess the risk of butterfish gillnets to Hector’s dolphins clearly necessitates a precautionary decision until this area of uncertainty has been addressed.
Several Hector’s dolphin populations and the species as a whole continue to decline because current measures are inadequate. Their lack of effectiveness is further documented by Ministry of Fisheries observers who, despite very low observer presence on fishing vessels (2-10%), reported the deaths of three Hector’s dolphins. Observers also made numerous Hector’s dolphin sightings in areas that remain unprotected (e.g. Tasman Bay, Golden Bay, beyond 2 nm offshore on WCSI, beyond 4 nm on east coast South Island). To protect Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin populations from further decline and extinction, protection must be intensified rather than eroded.
Hector’s dolphins are found only in New Zealand. Like the Kiwi, of which there are some 70,000, they are a national treasure, which New Zealand safeguards on behalf of the world. Your department’s own calculations indicate that the commercial value of the affected fisheries is low. Please ensure that your decision will not be a step backwards, but a positive move that will bring these imperilled animals one step closer to recovery.