Backlash at dolphin protection
"Five reported sightings of dolphins since 2008"ISOBEL EWING
What do you think of the Government's proposal to extend the set net fishing ban off the coast of Taranaki?
A commercial fisherman says the latest Government plans to protect the Maui's dolphin in Taranaki waters may spell the eventual death of the fishing industry in the region.
Environment Minister Nick Smith yesterday announced a proposal to extend the set net fishing ban off the coast of Taranaki in an effort to protect the rare and endangered species.
The proposed Waitara set net fishing ban extension is from Pariokariwa Pt to Waiwhakaiho River in Taranaki and between two and seven nautical miles offshore, covering an area of 350 square kilometres.
Currently set netting is banned within 3.7 kilometres (2 nautical miles) of the shore and is allowed only between 3.7km and 13km offshore with an observer aboard.
Green Party conservation spokesperson Eugenie Sage welcomed the set net free area but said the Government should have acted faster.
"Maui's dolphins - the world's most endangered dolphin - are only found in New Zealand, and they need greater protection immediately."
Egmont Seafoods owner Keith Mawson said commercial fishermen were totally frustrated by the new plans.
He said it was a struggle for the industry to protect an animal they never saw.
"How can we invest and try and grow our businesses when we're just seeing our fishery being removed from us for no good reason?
"It's that slow creep of fishing grounds being taken away. There may not be a fishing industry long term."
In a meeting with local iwi and commercial fishers in New Plymouth yesterday, Dr Smith said he understood the negative effects of the ban on set net fishermen but the Maui's dolphin was not going extinct on his watch.
"I know it's going to impact on their livelihoods, it's a very difficult balancing job between ensuring the survival of one of our most endangered species, the Maui's dolphin, and these people who earn a living."
With just 55 adult Maui's dolphins remaining it was difficult to identify where they were, he said.
Dr Smith said he accepted the dolphins' main habitat was between Raglan and Kaipara harbours but there had been sightings off the Taranaki coast.
"In the area that I am proposing to extend the set net ban, we have had five observances of the Maui dolphin, four of them are pretty reliable.
"I have said to the fishermen I cannot accept set net fishing in the areas where there are reliable, and multiple reportings of the presence of the Maui's dolphin."
Mr Mawson said the decision was a political one that was made on the best available information.
He said the Government was bowing to international and national environmental groups.
"There's been five reported sightings of dolphins since 2008 which we're aware of, but they don't know if they're Maui's or Hector's dolphins.
He said the minister appeared to be ignoring evidence which suggested Maui's dolphins visited Taranaki waters very rarely.
"The new evidence has been that we've had observers on our boats since July of last year. We've covered approximately 460 days, 3500 hours and about 25,000km and there's been no dolphins sighted."
He said Department of Conservation and seismic surveying boats had not recorded any dolphin sightings either.
Mr Mawson said the proposed extension covered an extremely important area for commercial fishers in the region.
"It's reasonably close to port, the accessibility is easy, it's an area where they do most of their spring fishing."
Dr Smith said iwi were torn between having a strong philosophical position around the survival of those species unique and special to New Zealand and being substantive players in the fishing industry.
Ms Sage said Dr Smith should forget the consultation process and act on Maui's dolphin protection immediately.
"The Government is recklessly risking the extinction of the Maui's dolphin by continuing to allow lethal fishing methods to be used in Maui's dolphin habitat and delaying action," Ms Sage said.
Labour conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said the Government's moves should be applauded but agreed it should have acted sooner.
"That Nick Smith has finally seen fit to extend the set net ban in Taranaki is definitely a positive move, but with just 55 of these dolphins left it may prove too little, too late," she said.
The plan will be open to consultation until October 10, and a threat management plan will then be finalised.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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