Ministers welcome regional concern for Maui’s dolphin
1 May 2007
A petition from local government leaders to increase protection for the endangered Maui’s dolphin has been welcomed by Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton and Conservation Minister Chris Carter.
The petition was signed by the Chairs of Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regional councils, the Mayor of Rodney District and some councillors in those areas and was sent to the ministers by Auckland Regional Council deputy chair Christine Rose.
It calls on the ministers to extend the existing set net ban to protect Maui’s dolphins, create a marine mammal sanctuary and introduce a species recovery plan. “This is a very strong message being sent by the leaders and other local government representatives from a large part of northern New Zealand,” Jim Anderton said.
“It will have to be considered very carefully as part of the threat management plan for Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins that is being developed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Ministry of Fisheries (MFish).”
Both ministers thought it was fantastic to see high level concern and support for the welfare of Maui’s dolphins from local government.
“As few as 110 Maui’s dolphins remain in the world and they are on Auckland, Waikato and Northland’s back door-step. They are our kakapo of the sea and we must ensure this species survives for now and future generations," Chris Carter said.
Twenty-three Hector's dolphins have been reported dead in the last six months, from a range of causes, including four of the nationally critical Maui's dolphins.
"Saving Maui’s dolphin from extinction will take a community effort and it is great that local government leaders want to get involved,” Chris Carter said.
Over the next few months MFish and DOC staff will consult with interested parties and will be releasing a draft Threat Management Plan for public consultation mid year. This national plan will look at eliminating or significantly reducing the risk of threats to both Hector's and Maui's Dolphins.
Chris Carter said it is important to complete the plan and get any potential protection measures in place before the dolphins' next breeding season in summer 2007/08.
Both Ministers said the more information that can be gleaned from fishers and others that see these dolphins in the wild, the more effective the threat management plan will be.
Hector’s dolphins are only found in New Zealand waters. They are the world's smallest, and one of the rarest, marine dolphins. The South Island has around 7,200 Hector's dolphins, with approximately 5,400 of these on the West Coast.
The North Island Hector’s dolphins, known as Maui’s dolphins, are critically endangered with as few as 110 remaining between Mokau and Kaipara and on the west coast.
They have become increasingly rare over the past few decades. It is uncertain if there is any one factor that has caused this. Scientists think there may be a number of different factors and threats involved.
Some of these threats have no quick-fix solutions, such as sedimentation and pollution from human activities that have degraded our coastal waters, the habitat where the dolphins spend much of their time.
Some threats may be difficult to address – like propeller strike from coastal vessels. But other threats are easier to address – such as dolphins getting caught in set nets.
Development of the plan and discussions with experts has been ongoing over the past 18 months.
Existing protection and threat management measures for Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins
Dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Act that is administered by the Department of Conservation.
To protect these Maui’s dolphins from fishing pressure, in 2003 commercial and amateur set netting was banned between Maunganui Bluff (north of Dargaville) and Pariokariwa Point (north of New Plymouth), to a distance of four nautical miles offshore. At the same time set netting was also banned in the Manukau Harbour entrance. These fishing restrictions still stand and cover the full extent of Maui’s dolphins' range, based on reliable sightings information.
The Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary covers 1140 square kilometres. A seasonal set-ban (1 November to 28 February) is enforced in the sanctuary every year to protect dolphins when they are swimming close to the coast.
There is a further set-net ban on the Canterbury coast from the Waitaki River in the south to the Waiau River in the north. This area is closed to set-netting from 1st October to 31st March to protect dolphins.
Further interim protection measures were put in place for the North Canterbury and Kaikoura coasts in December 2006. These require recreational fishers to stay with their set-nets and retrieve them should dolphins swim into the area. This expired on 31 March 2007.
A similar 'stay with your net' measure for recreational fishers was put in place for Te Wae Wae Bay in Southland to protect a population of Hector’s dolphins resident there over the summer months.