Minister must use emergency powers to save Maui’s dolphins

Forest & Bird today urged Primary Industries Minister David Carter to step in and use his emergency powers to halt the slide of Maui’s dolphins towards extinction.

A Maui’s dolphin was killed in a set net in January off the Taranaki coast, where the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had previously insisted the world’s rarest dolphin did not occur.

“An unpublished Department of Conservation report estimates there are fewer than 80 Maui’s dolphins remaining – which represents a 30 percent plunge in the population over the last six years,” Forest & Bird Marine Conservation Advocate Katrina Subedar said.

“We have reached the stage where every death of a Maui’s dolphin in a fishing set net threatens the future of the whole subspecies, so we believe the Minister has no choice but to introduce emergency measures immediately.”

Under the Fisheries Act, the Primary Industries Minister has emergency powers that would allow him to temporarily extend the set net prohibition zone to include Taranaki while permanent protection measures are put in place.

The current set net prohibition area – excluding Taranaki – was put in place along most of the upper half of the North Island’s west coast in 2008 to protect Maui’s dolphins from being killed in set nets. 

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said this week that New Zealanders should mark Seaweek (March 3-11) by reporting any sightings of rare marine mammal species, including Maui’s dolphins.

“We believe the Minister of Conservation should mark Seaweek by urging her Cabinet colleague to introduce emergency measures to stop fishing-related deaths of Maui’s dolphins,” Katrina Subedar said.

Katrina Subedar will be joining other organisations and individuals at Raglan on Saturday for Maui’s Dolphin Day to highlight the plight of the species and the need to step up measures to protect it.     

In the South Island, a set net ban is also in place along the east coast to protect the closely related Hector’s dolphins, of which only an estimated 7000 remain. But the ban on set nets within four nautical miles of the coast does not cover all the areas where the dolphin is found. 

The ban failed to protect two Hector’s dolphins found dead and entangled in a fishing set net on the North Canterbury coast last month. No conclusive proof has yet been made public to show whether the deaths were caused by a set net illegally set by recreational fishers or by commercial fishers operating outside the four nautical mile zone.

“To better protect Hector’s dolphins, the set net ban must be expanded to include Tasman and Golden bays and further offshore along the east coast of the South Island,” Katrina Subedar said.