Taranaki fisherman slams government data on Maui's dolphin

Rob Ansley, director of Ocean Pearl Fisheries used to love fishing, but now he just wants out.
Sam Scannell

Rob Ansley, director of Ocean Pearl Fisheries used to love fishing, but now he just wants out.

A commercial fisherman in Taranaki has rubbished new government data which shows increased Maui's dolphin numbers. 

The research - conducted by the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Primary Industries - found there are approximately 63 adults left in the species whereas there was previously thought to have been only 55. 

New Plymouth fisherman Rob Ansley said claims by minister Nathan Guy that set net restrictions were having a positive effect on Maui's numbers  was "a load of s**t".

New research shows that there 63 adult Maui's dolphin remaining.

New research shows that there 63 adult Maui's dolphin remaining.

Ansley said government observers aboard fishing boats in Taranaki waters had not seen a single Maui's dolphin since they started observing in 2012. 

"How can it be working if no one has ever had a confirmed sighting of these dolphins," he said.

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Ansley said his observer had not made a single Maui's dolphin sighting in 900 days over the last four years. 

"It's absolutely crippled my business, I used to have 18 staff now I have myself and one other full timer," he said. 

"I used to love fishing, now I just want to pay off my debts and get the hell out."

He said the it was time for the government to reduce the restrictions or accept the results of their own findings.

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"They're not in Taranaki, the government need to listen to their own observers who haven't seen any."

An spokesperson for MPI confirmed there had never been a Maui's or Hectors dolphin sighting in Taranaki by an observer but this was not unexpected.

"The distribution of such a rare animal, especially around the edge of its distribution, is likely to result in very few sightings," the spokesperson said. 

The estimated cost of the Taranaki observer programme is between $300,000 and $500,00 per year. 

Inshore Fisheries NZ represent commercial fishing interests and their CEO Jeremy Helson said the government's restrictions on set-netting were "overly cautious".

"Fishing restrictions in the last 10 years have been the primary reason for stress among fishermen in Taranaki," Helson said. 

"Observers haven't spotted a single Maui's dolphin but that information as it is highlights that fishing has very little risk upon dolphin species."

Helson said it was time for the government to start looking at other threats to the dolphins' existence.

"Fishing is historically the most obvious risk, but there are things like seabed mining, disease and seismic testing that are also threats," he said. 

At the start of the year 2,600 square kilometres of Maui's dolphin sanctuary was put up for tender by the government for oil exploration, a move that was heavily criticised by the Green Party for the impact seismic surveying would have on the dolphin. 

There is much debate about whether seismic testing - used to survey for oil and gas - has any negative effects on Maui's dolphin but at present an observer must be on board a vessel conducting testing who will shut down any work if a dolphin, or other marine mammal, is spotted within one kilometre.

Now that more Maui's dolphin have been discovered conservation minister Maggie Barry said the population had stabilised since the last survey was carried out in 2011. 

"These results are encouraging but there is no dispute the maui population remains at a very low level," she said. 

"While it is impossible to count every dolphin in the sea and this figure can only ever be an estimate, the survey was carried out according to rigorous scientific standards."

The research was conducted by the Ministry of Primary Industries, the Department of Conservation and Oregon State Universities who took genetic samples from dolphins they encountered in the summers of 2015 and 2016.

Their scientists were then able to assess the samples and determine how many individual dolphins were out there. 

Barry said the new research was an improvement on previous methods of surveying the rare ocean mammal and a more extensive report would be out next month. 

According to the Department of Conservation the last confirmed sighting of a Maui's dolphin in Taranaki was at Port Taranaki on January 18, 2014 while the last sighting in New Zealand was on March 20, 2016 off Muriwai beach in Auckland. 

 - Stuff

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