No dolphins seen, but net ban to stay

Taranaki fishermen feel vindicated after government observers have failed to sight any Maui's or Hector's dolphins in the region's waters during the past month.

The commercial fishermen are now calling for an immediate reversal of a ban on the use of set nets up to 3.6km (two nautical miles) off Taranaki's coast which was introduced near the end of last month.

The restrictions were put in place to protect endangered Maui's dolphins while the Government revised its Threat Management Plan for the world's rarest marine mammals, which have an estimated population of just 55 adults.

The Primary Industries Ministry, however, says it would be premature to reverse the ban after only one month.

Ministry representative Scott Gallacher confirmed that observers on five boats had not sighted any of the dolphins in the past month.

"[Reversing the ban] would be some what premature," Mr Gallacher said.

"The ministry and Government are looking for long-term gains, in terms of information, and a long-term solution to what is happening."

Local fisherman Ian McDougall said continuing with the ban was a waste of time.

"I will continue to say that there would be a 99.9 per cent chance that they won't see one," he said.

Mr McDougall would be happy for observers to remain on board while they fished within the 3.6km zone.

The five boats, with observers on board, had gone as far north as Mokau and south to Hawera, travelling 4410 kilometres, providing 658 hours of observer coverage, more than 84 days at sea, without seeing a single Maui's or Hector's dolphin.

Mr McDougall said it was not a surprise.

"I caught the dolphin that started all this panic in January. It was the first I'd seen in 15 years fishing here. I reported it, but the problem was MPI issued a press statement saying I'd caught a Maui's.

"People believed them, even though MPI later backed off its claim and it now says it was just as likely to be a Hector's, which is much more common."

He said that without a DNA sample it was impossible to tell the dolphins apart.

Fishermen had tried to cover as much area as possible to prove the dolphins were not in Taranaki waters.

"The boats haven't just stayed in the approved set net area. We've been into the two-mile limit without fishing just to prove the dolphins aren't there either," Mr McDougall said.

All of the fishermen's catch was down on previous years, one business had already gone broke and Mr McDougall believed the fishermen ought to receive compensation.

"The Government speculated on what type of dolphin I had caught. They got it wrong and sent everyone into a panic. Now it's up to the minister for primary industries to put it right," he said.

Mr Gallacher said compensation was not an option on the table.

Taranaki Daily News