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Fishers concerned about new set net ban

Last updated 08:01 05/06/2008
NEW BAN: The new Hector's and Maui's Dolphin Threat Management Plan announced extends the set net ban from Poutu Point to South Head in the Kaipara Harbour entrance.

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The new set net ban announced by acting conservation minister David Parker last week will impact on Rodney fishers.

The ban covers the entire Kaipara Harbour entrance, from Poutu Point to South Head.

Mr Parker says they have set the new protection measures to improve maui dolphin survival prospects.

The new Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan was designed by the Department of Conservation, DOC, and the Fisheries Ministry.

Mr Parker announced four new marine mammal sanctuaries where seabed activities in key dolphin habitats will be restricted or
managed.

The four new sanctuaries are in areas where the dolphins are known to frequently range – the west coast of the North Island for the maui’s dolphin, and Clifford and Cloudy Bay in Marlborough, Porpoise Bay and Fortress, Catlins Coast and Te Waewae Bay, South Coast for the hector’s dolphin.

Alterations to the existing sanctuary at Banks Peninsula are also proposed.

The hector’s dolphin population is estimated to be about 7268, and the maui’s only 111.

But New Zealand Seafood Council chief executive Owen Symmans says this decision will put people out of business, destroy their savings and won’t save any additional dolphins.

He says they are being effectively protected under measures put in place in 2003.

"We are appalled that the minister can think it’s alright to ruin even one person’s business and livelihood with an absolutely pointless and unnecessary measure to protect a dolphin that is already fully protected."

He says there has never been a verified sighting of them outside of the existing ban area, and no reported deaths from commercial trawling or set netting since the 2003 measures were put in place.

"We are already not catching maui’s dolphins, and closing wider areas where they do not range is simply unjustifiable," he says.

He says the government should be prepared to compensate for the huge personal losses.

The industry has been willing to work with the ministers of conservation and fisheries to put protection measures in place where there is a proven risk, of which there is none this time, he says.

"If the government can provide credible evidence that a risk actually exists then industry would prefer to work together to achieve meaningful mitigation.

"We accept the need for restrictions where the future of an endangered dolphin species is affected – but we cannot stomach unnecessary and pointless restrictions," he says.

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Conservation minister Chris Carter says the dolphins are a national taonga they cannot afford to lose.

"Their future is grim unless impacts on the species are managed. The maui subspecies is now down to just 111 individuals, making it the world’s rarest marine dolphin," he says.

Fisheries minister Jim Anderton says measures were already in place to reduce the effects of fishing on the dolphins but concerns remained.

He says the Fisheries Ministry contracted an independent research provider to gather information on the social, cultural and economic impacts of any further threat management measures.

The World Wildlife Fund, WWF, says the ban extension is a good first step, but there is further to go to
save the species.

"After more than four years of sustained campaigning for their protection, the decision gives hector’s and maui’s dolphins a fighting chance for survival," says WWF’s marine programme manager Rebecca Bird.

But she says WWF and dolphin scientists are concerned the new measures don’t go far enough to allow dolphins to recover, and will keep numbers static.

"When you’re dealing with the world’s rarest dolphin you can’t go for half measures in the face of
extinction.

"We’re heartened by the government’s concerted effort to protect our dolphins, but this is just a first step. We challenge the government now to produce a species recovery plan that is futuristic and visionary – addressing some of the threats is simply not enough."

She says this would also benefit the dolphin tourism industry, which nationally contributes an estimated $24 million annually to the economy.

Auckland Regional Council leaders commend the government’s decision.

The regional council supports a campaign organised by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society and WWF to protect the dolphins.

Regional council chairman Mike Lee and Rodney councillor Christine Rose praised Mr Anderton for what they say was undertaking a thorough and robust process.

"All scientific advice points to the fact that the maui’s dolphin is just a few short years from total extinction," says Mr Lee.

Mr Anderton’s intervention comes just in time, but even then the situation for this marine mammal will remain critical, says Mrs Rose.

She says if man-made threats such as this are eliminated, the dolphins can withstand natural predators and other threats.

"While other threats clearly exist – such as trawling, pollution, boat strike, sand mining and seismic testing – scientific evidence has proved that by eliminating set netting from their habitats these dolphins have a good chance of survival – in fact it is the single most likely thing to enable their recovery."

She says Rodney residents can be proud of the part they played in saving this
species.

"The fishing restrictions still allow many types of less indiscriminate fishing in the dolphins’ habitat, but will lead to increased marine environment health all round."

- Rodney Times

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