Forest & Bird says WWF-NZ's plan for protecting Māui dolphins is based on testing unproven methods on a species that is almost extinct, and is urging the Government to reject the proposal.
"New Zealanders don’t want to gamble with the extinction of dolphins. We respect WWF-NZ for attempting to find common ground with some in the fishing industry, but we do not support their proposed option, and we don’t believe other conservationists will either," says Forest & Bird CE Kevin Hague.
"Māui dolphins deserve our very best efforts; they are very nearly extinct, and we must do everything we can to save them. The measures proposed in the WWF-industry submission create risks to the dolphins when New Zealand should do our utmost to eliminate those risks.
"None of WWF-NZ’s suggestions for continuing with dolphin-unfriendly fishing methods are proven to work. The Government’s threat management plan is the last chance to stop the extinction of the iconic New Zealand Māui dolphin. It is not the time to play games of chance, it is our last chance to act, and the Government must do so," says Mr Hague.
"Forest & Bird agree there should be recognition of potentially unfair costs of change for people in the fishing industry, but the answer to this should be to help meet the costs of shifting to dolphin-friendly fishing methods, not to hold back on the change."
Key problems with WWF-industry proposals: This proposal is based on testing unproven methods on a dolphin that is almost extinct.
The mitigation methods risk wasting significant government funding on unproven methods that would be better spent transitioning to dolphin friendly fishing methods.
Passive Acoustic Monitoring only works over a short range, requires a full time operator and the associated methods to reduce the risk of killing dolphins are unproven and potentially dangerous.
Even if Māui dolphins are seen by fishers, the fishers don't immediately stop trawling, meaning that any dolphins caught in the net out of sight are likely to be killed.
No information is provided to explain how thermal imaging might work - but has the same risks as for other close range detections.
Drones have limited flying time because of battery power and requires a minimum of one operator and sometimes two if launched from a boat. Range is limited to line of sight.
It seems unlikely that all boats could afford to have dedicated staff for these operations, or the demands placed on Marine Mammal Observers and a 100% roll out across the fleet of such teams is highly unlikely and at huge cost that could be better used to transition fishers to dolphin friendly fishing practices.
Detection of dolphins at sea is difficult even in good sighting conditions and with highly skilled observers. It is practically impossible to detect dolphins at night with a range that would enable action.
The proposals to reduce fisheries restrictions based on a lack of observed dolphins does not take into account that spotting exceedingly rare dolphins is unlikely.
The proposal for yet more science before restrictions are placed on the fishers is the antithesis of the precautionary principal.
Toxoplasmosis signals the urgent need to remove the risks we know we can manage.
Māui dolphins needs the Government to: Adopt a zero bycatch goal.
Use only dolphin-friendly fishing practices within the dolphins’ habitat. This means excluding recreational and commercial set-net and trawl fishing in waters out to the 100m depth contour on a precautionary basis as well as within the proposed extensions to the marine mammal sanctuaries.
Prohibit new oil and gas well drilling and exploration, seismic surveys, and minerals exploration and extraction within the precautionary habitat of Māui dolphins.
Introduce package of assistance for those who are not able to relocate their fishing effort, change methods to those that do not catch dolphins, or who lack quota and might find their operation is unviable.
Adopt a toxoplasmosis action plan, but not at the expense of urgent protection action, particularly for Māui dolphins. Weakened immune systems and degraded habitat make dolphins more vulnerable to toxoplasmosis.
Establish a work programme with regional and district councils, and community groups to manage sedimentation, erosion, agricultural run-off, storm water and sewerage outflows, and debris (e.g. plastics).