People 'worried' to report dolphin deaths

KIRSTY JOHNSTON AND MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 14:33 29/04/2012
Maui Dolphin
CLOSE TO EXTINCTION: A Maui dolphin and her calf.

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People are still afraid to report on dolphin deaths due to repercussions from the fishing industry, a University of Otago zoology professor says.

A critically endangered Maui's dolphin was found dead by a member of the public in Taranaki last week.

The dolphin, of which only 54 are believed to be left, was found by a member of the public on Thursday or Friday on a beach near Pungarehu, south of New Plymouth.

It was collected by the Department of Conservation and taken to Massey University for an autopsy.

It's not yet known if the dead dolphin is a Maui or closely related Hector's dolphin. A latest population survey found a couple of Hector's mingling further north than usual with the Maui's dolphin.

Otago professor Liz Slooten said it would be "hard to get information out of the tiny community of Parihaka''.

It would be the second Maui's dolphin found dead in Taranaki this year. Another, a female, was accidentally killed by a fisherman in January.

"It's only because of recent media attention and websites that people are realising how important this is.''

People were still scared of speaking up about dolphin deaths for fear of repercussions from the fishing industry, Slooten said.

A research student of hers saw up to five Hector's dolphins trapped a day in nets while working on a fishing boat. He was hesitant on reporting the incidents.

"His parents live in the area and it would take five minutes for someone to figure out who had reported it.''

While gill net fishing is banned in parts of Manukau and Kaipara harbours, it is not from north of New Plymouth to south Taranaki.

"As a biologist it's really frustrating,'' Slooten said.

"I've done surveys down there and wrote an article in 2005 to say the Maui is going much further south than the protected area.''

The Fisheries Act includes allowances for emergency protection measures to be put in place "literally overnight'' in cases of sudden stock declines or unprecedented events, Slooten said.

Submissions on laws to further protect the Maui's dolphins closed on Friday. The laws want to extend the current ban on set nets along the west coast of the North Island and also extend a marine mammal sanctuary.

The fishing industry will argue against the ban, saying the dolphins have not been seen in the Taranaki area for years.

Keith Mawson of Egmont Seafoods in Taranaki earlier told the Seafood Industry Council that a proposal to extend the set net ban was a knee jerk reaction.

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A ban would be disappointing for the fishing community, which was being used as a "scapegoat'', he told the council.

"The Department of Conservation has had no recovery plan in place and has done little research on dolphins in the Taranaki area.

"Now they're panicking by fast-tracking a proposal that is in danger of not delivering the results we all want, which is a thriving dolphin population.''

- Stuff

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