A Green Party policy to protect Maui's dolphins could cost Taranaki thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, Conservation Minister Nick Smith says.
Yesterday the Green Party announced a new policy to ban set-net fishing, trawling and gas and oil exploration within reserve areas that are home to the 55 Maui's dolphins.
The move could have a significant impact on both Taranaki's fishing and oil and gas industries, Smith said.
"There has not been a single incident involving Maui's dolphin and Taranaki's $3 billion oil and gas industry in over 40 years," Smith said.
"The prohibition on any new oil and gas exploration in this large area will come at a huge economic cost long term not just to Taranaki, but more widely to New Zealand.
"This extreme Green policy will cost Taranaki thousands of jobs and billions of dollars."
However, New Plymouth Green Party candidate, Sarah Roberts, backed the proposal and said it made no sense to let new oil and gas exploration and mining move in with the dolphins.
Smith had exaggerated the loss of jobs at the same time as downplaying the risk to the Maui's dolphins, she said.
"The mammal sanctuary is like a national park in the sea and if you set one up you need to treat it the same as you would the national park up the mountain."
She said the Green Party was keen on solutions to protect both the dolphins and the livelihood of the fishermen.
The party had announced $20 million would be given to fishermen who might face "hardship" if the ban took place.
The money would be used as transitional support to help provide alternative dolphin-friendly fishing gear.
"It's a win-win for everyone."
However, New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young reiterated his concerns that proposals that limit activity because of the Maui's dolphins could make Taranaki's oil and gas sector the new endangered species.
"The National Government has put stringent restrictions in place to protect the Maui's dolphin, but the Greens' plan to prohibit any new oil and gas developments means that a Labour-Greens coalition government would potentially see the Taranaki region go into economic recession," Young said.
With approximately 5500 direct and indirect jobs in Taranaki through the petroleum sector, Taranaki voters should be wary of a policy of this nature becoming law, he said.
However, New Plymouth's Labour candidate Andrew Little said the party did not support a ban of offshore drilling. "The biggest risk is set-nets," he said.
"There's no evidence that offshore drilling has an impact on Maui's dolphins, so we can't support that. As for the set-nets, we already have bans in place so I don't really see what the Greens are trying to achieve."
Maui's dolphins are found only in New Zealand waters, primarily on the west coast of the North Island from Maunganui Bluff to the Whanganui River.
The area has been made a marine mammal sanctuary, but oil and gas exploration is allowed and goes on within it.
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said yesterday the sanctuary was a sham and the government allowed practices which were lethal to Maui's dolphins to take place.
"It's closer to a slaughterhouse than a safe house," she said.
- Taranaki Daily News