Fears rise for dolphin

19:55, Oct 31 2012
MAUI'S dolphin: International measures aimed at forcing protection could include a brand attack on export fish.

The Maui's dolphin is heading for extinction under government proposals to protect it on Auckland's doorstep.

That's the view of the council's environment and sustainability forum chairman and Albany Ward councillor Wayne Walker as the region prepares its threat management plan submission before the November 12 deadline.

The world's smallest dolphin is seen as expendable by the government as it panders to the fishing industry lobby groups ahead of the views of most New Zealanders, he says.

About 55 Maui's dolphin are estimated left, most sightings restricted to between Port Waikato and the Manukau Harbour on Auckland's west coast.

"Our submission will likely point out the government's proposals are inadequate," Mr Walker says.

"They don't appear to be based on science, and don't take into account the perilous state of the Maui's dolphin," the Whangaparaoa resident says.


Not all forum members agree the council should be submitting in favour of protecting the dolphin.

Councillor Des Morrison raises concerns for fishers operating from the Manukau Harbour.

Independent Maori Statutory Board member David Tapari says the broader protection could interfere with Treaty of Waitangi settlements yet to be sorted along Auckland's west coast.

A June workshop for experts in the marine mammal field was held by the Ministry of Primary Industries, Conservation Department and the Royal Society of New Zealand to assess human-induced impacts on Maui's population.

They included researchers from Auckland, Otago and Oregon USA universities, NIWA, Te Papa, and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration US fisheries expert.

No scientific representative from either MPI or DOC was included, though New Zealand Seafood Industry Council chief scientist Dr David Middleton, a marine modeller, was there.

His estimates were sometimes at odds with other panel members.

These include an estimate of one Maui's dolphin death a year compared with a mid range of around five for the other panelists and a mortality estimate from fishing related threats more than 10 times lower than the closest estimate.

The panel's results show the dolphin population can't sustain the current level of human-induced deaths.

But panel members weren't involved in the proposals to manage these threats and say they have been advised against discussing the proposals publicly.

DOC, responsible for Maui's dolphins and all other marine mammals, also remains largely silent on the effectiveness of the government's proposals.

It says until the process of public consultation is completed it is not in a position to comment on the threat management plan.

Otago University Hector's and Maui's dolphins expert Professor Liz Slooten has spoken out about a disconnect between risks and the government's proposal, which she says will not save the dolphins.

Council coastal specialist and marine scientist Bill Trusewich agrees. Dr Trusewich has a background with DOC dealing in marine mammals and also fisheries.

The work of Dr Slooten and co-researcher at Otago University Associate Professor Steve Dawson, also on the panel, is "absolutely rock solid", former DOC marine scientist head Ian West says.

Dr West oversaw department research involving marine mammals, birds, and marine reserves from about 1995 until he retired four years ago.

He once worked on the fishing industry's impact on marine mammal populations and did surveys to determine Hector's dolphin numbers.

He was also at the helm in 2002 when research showed Maui's dolphins on the North Island west coast were genetically different to Hector's dolphins, usually found on the South Island's east coast from about Christchurch south.

At the IUCN's World Conservation Congress in September, New Zealand was the only one of 576 members to vote against banning gill and trawl nets out to a 100 metre contour, aimed at saving the Maui's dolphin.

"Going out to the 100m contour would be an absolute minimum," Dr West says. "We don't have a show of saving these animals unless we stop set netting [within that zone]."

Dr Dawson says: "The population is so precarious if we do anything meaningful to preserve the fishery we will let this population go extinct. If you back off fishing until the the dolphin population is healthy enough you can go back to it in the future. But you can't do that with the dolphin - once it's gone it's gone."

International pressure is mounting with a "brand attack" campaign on New Zealand export fish planned this month.

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Rodney Times