Four new marine sanctuaries are planned to protect the endangered Hector's and Maui's dolphins.
But Forest and Bird says they do not go far enough, and it has renewed calls for a total ban on set nets.
The sanctuaries are proposed in a draft Conservation Department report issued yesterday. They are on the North Island's west coast, Clifford and Cloudy Bays in Marlborough, Porpoise Bay in the Catlins and Te Waewae Bay in Southland. An existing sanctuary on Banks Peninsula would be extended.
Sanctuaries can be set up in territorial waters to create a refuge and ban activities that harm marine mammals. They do not ban all fishing, but may restrict what methods can be used.
But Forest and Bird advocate Kirstie Knowles said a sanctuary on the South Island's West Coast was a glaring omission.
"Already this year 12 Hector's dolphins have been reported dead on the West Coast. Only a nationwide set-net ban will adequately protect Hector's and Maui's dolphins and other vulnerable marine life."
A spokeswoman for Conservation Minister Chris Carter said the West Coast Hector's dolphin population was considered large and healthy, and the size of the area would pose policing problems. The Hector's dolphin is considered one of the world's rarest species, while the Maui's dolphin, with a population under 100, is critically endangered.
The DOC report said set nets posed the greatest human threat to the dolphins, which often ranged close to shore. Also a danger were inshore trawl fishing and disease and pollution. Possible measures ranged from banning set nets from west coast North Island harbours, or making fishermen watch their nets at all times.
Recreational Fishing Council president Keith Ingram said banning set nets could cause human deaths, as people resorted to dangerous methods like spear fishing on tricky tidal mud flats.
The decline in the Maui's dolphin may be because they had stopped breeding because of disease, or some genetic reason. "I'm getting a bit short with these environmentalists that are blaming it on fishing."
Trawlers could face extra monitoring or bans from Maunganui Bluff (north of Dargaville) to Pariokariwa Pt (north of New Plymouth), extending 7.4 kilometres from shore.
Mr Carter said Hector's and Maui's dolphins were a national taonga. "Their future is grim unless impacts on the species are managed."
Public submissions on the draft plan close on October 24.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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