Set net ban extension to protect Maui's Dolphin

Restrictions on the use of set-nets are to be extended to help protect the critically endangered Maui's dolphin.

Primary Industries Minister David Carter today said the existing recreational and commercial set net ban will be extended along the Taranaki coast from Pariokariwa Point south to Hawera, and out to two nautical miles.

Also, the use of commercial set nets between two and seven nautical miles in this area would be prohibited unless there was an observer on board.

"Maui's dolphins are critically endangered, with an estimated 55 adult animals remaining. The Government is taking this action to protect these dolphins while the Threat Management Plan is reviewed. This will be completed by the end of November," Carter said.

"While there is a high level of uncertainty about the activity of Maui's dolphins in the Taranaki area, the fact remains that their small number necessitates this action."

He said the Government was fully aware of the potential impact of the extended ban on the local fishing community, which was why a review of the Threat Management Plan was needed.

It would reassess natural and man-made risks facing Maui's and Hector's dolphins and recommend how the greatest risks could be mitigated.

Conservation lobby groups and opposition MPs said the measures did not go far enough, but a local fishing representative said it would cost jobs.

Labour spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said ministers had missed what could be the last chance to save Maui's dolphin.

"Our international reputation for being clean and green will be in shreds."

"The failure of the National Government to take comprehensive action to protect the Maui's dolphin has not only put the extinction of this sub-species on the agenda but has made an international boycott of New Zealand fish a real possibility."

Global conservation group WWF said it was a half measure that would fail to save the estimated 55 Maui's dolphins from imminent extinction.

"There are now fewer Maui's dolphins than kakapo left in the world," WWF-New Zealand's Marine Programme Manager Rebecca Bird said.

"These measures are simply not enough to protect the species from extinction."

Forest & Bird welcomed the announcement but said it did not adequately protect Maui's dolphins from the threat of extinction.

But  Taranaki fishers said the interim set net ban announced would have a devastating impact on the Taranaki fishing industry and do nothing to save the Maui's dolphins.

"Set net fishing is already excluded from large sections of the west coast of the North Island, which covers all the observed range of Maui's dolphins. So any further exclusions, particularly in areas where there have been no live sightings of Maui's dolphins, are not going to make any difference to their plight," Keith Mawson, who represents Taranaki commercial fishermen, said.

If the interim ban became permanent it would likely tresult in the loss of up to 50 jobs and $15 million in annual income for the Taranaki region.

"We have had only one fishing related mortality of a dolphin in the Taranaki region in the past 20 years and the evidence shows that this was more likely to have been a Hector's, not a Maui's dolphin. Is this remote threat enough to shut an entire fishery down with the loss of 50 jobs?"