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Forest & Bird says it’s unnacceptable that 44 dolphins were caught in fishing nets in the Bay of Plenty in the last year, with over half of them being killed.
The conservation organisation has obtained records of the Bay’s fishing bycatch over the last seven years from the Ministry of Primary Industries.
The bycatch, which is mostly self-reported from fishers, includes common dolphins, endangered turtles, fur seals, protected corals, and hundreds of seabirds.
Of the 53 common dolphins caught over the last seven years, 39 were caught in the last year in purse seine nets, in three seperate events.
“For so many dolphins to be caught in one year, in one region, is very alarming,” says Dr Rebecca Stirnemann, Central North Island Regional Manager.
“While common dolphins may be more numerous than some of our endangered dolphin species, they are still protected marine mammals.”
While it is not clear from the data what the target species was, the dominant purse seine fishery in the Bay of Plenty targets Jack mackerel.
The remaining common dolphins were caught in trawlers.
“Given this bycatch has been largely self-reported, and not all fishers will report their bycatch, we don’t know the full extent of the problem. But even this level of bycatch is unacceptable.”
Dr Stirnemann says that while not all the captured dolphins died, it’s likely that some animals released alive, died later from their injuries.
“We want to see fishers adopt a pledge of zero-bycatch, and get serious about using mitigation measures to avoid unecessary captures, injuries and deaths.
“This worrying situation also highlights the importance of the planned roll-out of cameras and GPS trackers on boats, so we can see exactly what’s going on.”
The documented bycatch also includes nearly 250kg of coral, which is protected under the Wildlife Act. Nearly all the coral was hauled up at one location near White Island scenic reserve.
“These corals are hundreds of years old, they are like the kauri of the sea. Yet they are being hauled up by bottom trawling – one of the most destructive fishing methods there is.” “We don’t clear-fell kauri anymore, so why do we allow protected and ancient corals to be completely destroyed?”