Set-net ban guts fishermen
Taranaki's commercial fishermen say their industry has just been destroyed by the Government.
The region's commercial fishing and processing companies spokesman Keith Mawson said a big extension of a set-net ban to encompass the entire Taranaki coastline could almost kill the industry in a year.
The ban has been put in place to protect the Maui's dolphin – despite the fact there have been no confirmed sightings or capture of the critically endangered mammal off Taranaki for at least 25 years.
The extension, announced yesterday by Primary Industries Minister David Carter, pushes an existing northern recreational and commercial set-net ban south so it now runs along the Taranaki coastline from Pariokariwa Point near Pukearuhe to Hawera. It will come into effect in 28 days.
There will be a total ban on recreational and commercial set nets out to 2 nautical miles, and the use of commercial set nets from 2 to 7 nautical miles will be prohibited unless there is an observer on board each fishing boat.
While there is a high level of uncertainty about the activity of Maui's dolphins in the Taranaki area, the fact remained their small number necessitated the extension, Mr Carter said.
"Maui's dolphins are critically endangered, with an estimated 55 adult animals remaining. The Government is taking this action to protect these dolphins while a Threat Management Plan is reviewed. This will be completed by the end of November. "
Mr Carter said the Government was fully aware of the potential impact of the extended ban on the Taranaki fishing community, which was why the plan's review was needed.
But yesterday a shattered Mr Mawson said the announcement represented the end of the line for many Taranaki commercial fishermen, because everyone knew that once restrictions were put in place they were almost impossible to remove.
"This decision has not been based on good, robust scientific information.
"It's purely and simply an emotive, political decision. There's been one dolphin mortality off Taranaki in the last 25 years – and that was a Hector's dolphin, not a Maui's – and they shut down the fishery on us.
"As a result, I can see a lot of commercial fishing operations not being here in 12 months' time."
Mr Mawson said the two fisheries that would be hit hardest were for blue warehou and rig, which are caught using set nets within 2 nautical miles of the coast.
"We'd already had 4200 square kilometres of good fishing water taken off us when the set-net ban was introduced north of Pariokariwa Point in an effort to protect the Maui's dolphin.
"And now this. The gutting part about it is that there has never been a reported sighting or a death of a Maui's dolphin around here. So there is still no scientific evidence whatsoever that Maui's dolphins are around here."
Mr Mawson said if the interim ban became permanent it might result in the loss of up to 50 jobs and $15 million in annual income for the Taranaki region.
However, while Mr Mawson was savaging the Government for extending the set-net ban, opposition political parties were savaging it for not doing enough.
Labour's conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson said the failure of the Government to take more comprehensive action to protect the Maui's dolphin had not only threatened its extinction, but had made an international boycott of New Zealand fish a real possibility.
Although not detailed in her media statement, Ms Dyson's criticism was apparently based on the fact conservation officials had recommended the ban extend 4 nautical miles out to sea.
"The Government has refused to adopt an evidence-based precautionary approach," she said.
"Instead, they have bowed to the fishing industry, ignored independent advice and evidence, and taken an approach that has a high risk of failure."
The Green Party's oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes said the new measures would not protect the Maui's dolphins from extinction.
"We need to halt all indiscriminate set-net fishing in all areas where Maui's dolphins are known to swim to give them a chance at survival. This decision still allows set-net fishing within the marine mammal sanctuary, which is an outrage."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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