Strong support from scientists

The Ministry for Primary Industries organised an Expert Panel meeting on Maui’s dolphin. The panel consisted of scientists from Auckland University, Otago University, the US National Marine Fisheries Service, National Institute of Water and Atmosphere, Te Papa and the Seafood Industry Council. Again, there was strong agreement that dolphin deaths in gillnets and trawl fisheries are still the number one threat. The fishing industry representative was the only person on the panel who believed that other threats could be anywhere near as serious as fishing. All other experts were unanimous in ranking fishing as a much more serious threat than any other threat to Maui’s and Hector’s dolphins (e.g. pollution, mining, disease, marine energy generation).

Still in June 2012, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission discussed the new trust research showing that protected areas can work for dolphins, if the protected area is:

  • large enough
  • in the right place
  • effectively manages the key threat(s)
  • policing is effective
  • threats are not displaced to other dolphin habitat
  • no new threats are added (e.g. mining, tidal turbines, etc.)

After reviewing the relevant research, the Scientific Committee concluded that bycatch in gillnet and trawl fisheries is still the most serious threat to this endangered species and that “weak protection on the west coast South Island, a lack of protection on the north coast South Island and ‘exemption’ areas in other regions are preventing species recovery”. The Scientific Committee recommended that independent observers be placed on all inshore trawl and gillnet fisheries in order to obtain scientific data on continuing bycatch and therefore the effectiveness of protection measures.

The Scientific Committee “Expressed particular concern about the low abundance of Maui’s dolphin” given the latest population estimate of only 55 individuals over one year old and the estimated population decline of about 3% per year. Finally, the International Whaling Commission recommended “the immediate implementation of the proposal by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries to extend the North Island protected area to approximately 80km south of the latest dolphin bycatch site (Maunganui Bluff to Hawera)” and recommended that this protected area extend offshore to the 100m depth contour, including the harbours, for gillnet and trawl fisheries. Further, the north coast of the South Island should also be protected in order to provide “safe ‘corridors’ between North and South Island populations”.

These are stern words from the International Whaling Commission. New Zealand has been a proud member of this organisation, and has worked very hard to reduce the impacts of whaling on species like humpback whales, right whales and minke whales. New Zealand is now being sent the clear message that in order to remain a credible member of the International Whaling Commission we need to get our own house in order and protect our own, endemic dolphins.