Dolphin vote 'tarnishes NZ's reputation'

CLOSE TO EXTINCTION: A Maui dolphin and her calf.
CLOSE TO EXTINCTION: A Maui dolphin and her calf.

New Zealand is the only country to vote against further protection for the critically endangered Maui's dolphins at the world's largest conservation summit.

A motion, aimed at stopping the extinction of the world's rarest dolphins and porpoises, including New Zealand's Hector's and Maui's dolphins, was put forward at the IUCN's World Conservation Congress in Korea last week.

Some 576 members, including governments and NGOs, voted for the motion. New Zealand is the only country to vote against.

It was initially believed two countries opposed to the motion, but it has since been revealed that New Zealand had two votes.

The move was labelled as "shameful" and a "disgrace"  by conservation groups and critics.

"The New Zealand government has acted shamefully and can no longer claim to be leaders in conservation," WWF's marine programme manager Rebecca Bird said.

"If we fail to act now, it will not be long before Maui's [dolphins] disappear from our waters forever."

The motion included an urgent extension of protection measures, with an emphasis on banning gill net and trawl net use from the shoreline to the 100 metre depth contour in all areas where Hector's and Maui's dolphins are found.

In the address to IUCN members, New Zealand Head of Delegation, Andrew Bignell, said action had already been taken to protect the endangered dolphins, and the recommendation was not backed by scientific evidence.

"New Zealand is committed to the protection of Maui's and Hector's dolphin, but is unable to support the proposed motion because it is not consistent with New Zealand government policy on mitigating fishing-related risks to them," he said.

Barry Weeber, co-chairman of the Environment and Conservation Organisations, which sponsored the motion, said the Government had expressed concern about the resolution before the vote, and a couple of changes had been made as a result.

"We thought that those changes would be sufficient to get New Zealand to abstain or vote for the resolution.

"We did know that they had to go back to Wellington to confirm the changes to see if they were happy with that, which clearly they weren't."

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes said the Government was putting the interests of a handful of fishers ahead of the safety of threatened dolphins.

"Ironically this move will likely damage the reputation of the wider fishing community, fishery exports, and our clean, green brand," he said.
"It isn't hard to give this species a shot at survival: we need to stop needlessly killing them in fishing nets."

Labour MP Ruth Dyson said the Government's vote was a "disgrace"

"It beggars belief that the New Zealand Government could oppose a motion to protect these incredibly vulnerable dolphins in our own waters.

"The Maui's dolphin is the most endangered dolphin species in the world, but we won't stand up for its survival?  It's appalling," she said.

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson couldn't be reached for comment.