Fishing industry gesture too late for Maui's dolphin
Fishing industry moves to protect the Maui's dolphin is being likened to putting a Band-Aid on a heart attack victim.
Two companies, Moana New Zealand and Sanford, are working with WWF-New Zealand to exclude fishing in the Maui's habitat, removing set-netting within a year and trawling methods from the west coast of the North Island by 2022.
Otago University marine biologist Professor Liz Slooten said at least it's an acknowledgement commercial fishing has been part of the problem.
"That's major progress, because for the last 30 years or so, the fishing industry has basically been in denial about this problem," Slooten said.
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"But after identifying there is a problem, they just don't follow through with any credible solution."
The Maui's dolphin is the world's smallest marine dolphin and is found off the North Island's west coast.
There are about 50 Maui's dolphins left and they range between Maunganui Bluff in the Far North and the Whanganui River mouth in the south, out to a depth of 100 metres.
Moana New Zealand and Sanford CEOs Carl Carrington and Volker Kuntzsch broke the news on Thursday, promising video cameras and electronic tracking will be installed on all vessels in 2017 to 2018. They added that $500,000 would be spent on research into Maui safe fishing.
The companies have significant quota in the dolphin's territory, some of which is leased to smaller operators who are likely to feel the pinch.
"Some of these fishers will find themselves in very difficult situations and be financially challenged by our decision," Kuntzsch said.
"We have been meeting with them and commit to continuing to stand alongside them if they choose to transition to more dolphin-safe methods such as long lining."
The exclusion area is isolated to the area north of New Plymouth, but Slooten said it should be extended south of the city as well and in the west coast harbours.
There is still some hope the dolphin can avoid extinction, but it requires decisive action.
"You've got somebody on an operating table halfway through a heart attack and instead of doing an operation, you give them a Band-Aid and an aspirin and send them on their way home. They are not going to make it if you don't do a bypass operation right now."
But WWF-New Zealand's Peter Hardstaff said it's an extraordinary development.
"This is a conservation emergency requiring concerted and collaborative action," Hardstaff said.
But Kawhia man and Maui's dolphin advocate Davis Apiti agreed with Slooten, saying it's too little, too late.
Iwi at Kawhia and Aotea are preparing for the dolphin's extinction, he said.
"Why didn't they do something 15 years ago when we campaigned? If they had done that, there would have been a marked increase of the dolphins."