Maui’s dolphin death outside protected area

A Maui’s dolphin is killed in a commercial gillnet, off Cape Egmont in Taranaki. This is well south of the protected area for Maui’s dolphin.

Map of dolphin death, from Ministry for Primary Industries:


This death could have been avoided, by including Taranaki in the protected area off the North Island west coast. Taranaki and the harbours (Manukau, Kaipara, Raglan, Aotea and Kawhia Harbours) were left out of the protected area due to fishing industry lobbying. Scientists and conservation groups have warned, for more than a decade, that this increases the risk of extinction for Maui’s dolphins.

Map of Maui’s dolphin sightings, from Department of Conservation:


Why did it take so long to act?

What would the Minister for Primary Industries be expected to do in these circumstances?

The obvious solution would be to use the Emergency Procedures in the New Zealand Fisheries Act to close the area to further gillnet and trawl fishing. This could have happened on 3 January. The Emergency Procedures do not require consultation with the fishing industry or the public, because any regulations set up in this way are temporary. Normally, such emergency measures would be in place for 3-4 months (very occasionally for up to a year). During this time, consultation and any further information gathering (if necessary) can take place. Then a permanent solution is put in place.

A two-week delay was caused by the fishing industry failing to report the dolphin death within 48 hours (as required by law).

When the dolphin death was finally reported to the Ministry for Primary Industries on 18 January everyone had expected a quick and decisive reponse. Maui’s dolphins are after all Critically Endangered. By definition, this means at extremely high risk of extinction.

Instead, the end of January came and went. Still no action from the government. The end of February followed, then March, and so on.

In July at it’s annual meeting, half a year after the dolphin death, the International Whaling Commission urged the “immediate implementation” of further dolphin protection measures to protect Maui’s dolphin. The IWC only makes these kinds of direct recommendations to individual member countries under the most extreme circumstances. For more information, see below.