Fishing industry's response smacks of hypocrisy

Last updated 08:00 23/07/2012

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How illuminating it has been to watch the flailing and wailing coming out of Taranaki over our last chance to save the Maui's dolphin from extinction.

The commentary has been mostly shrill and immature. More than that, it has been - horror of horrors - emotional. You know, that thing women get accused of being when men don't like our opinions.

Journalism prides itself on "balance" but, on that score, I haven't seen much local news media space made available for the contrary scientific view relative to the industry view.

To keep repeating that not one Maui's dolphin has been sighted in 25 years off Taranaki is completely at odds with several stories that have been run in the Taranaki Daily News over the past couple of years. There didn't appear to be a hint of a doubt back then about these sightings but, quite suddenly, it seems to be entirely different.

I do agree with the fishermen that they have been let down by the Government but only in as much as they should have been better prepared. The continuing use of set-nets close to the coastline, in a proven playground of a cetacean nearing extinction, was always going to end. The real shame is that it didn't end much sooner.

You see, while the fishing industry shouts loudly about their income loss, environmentalists (who are often just ordinary people who give a toss) feel gypped too. In trying to please everybody, the Government has succeeded in pleasing nobody. By only banning set-nets out to 2 nautical miles, instead of the 4 recommended by conservation officials, it is a half-measure that may ultimately achieve little.

The International Whaling Commission recognised this failure and gave our Government a public dressing down during their meeting in Panama last week. New Zealand and New Zealanders generally back the IWC on their call for Japanese whaling to cease. In our own waters, though, we "won't be dictated to" - even if that means we may end up nationally responsible for wiping out an entire species. It's called hypocrisy.

Now we see the Taranaki fishermen looking at taking the Government to court. Well, good luck with that. If they put in as much effort ensuring their own survival by adjusting their fishing methods to fit with the extended ban, they'd save time, money and certain angst.

If their argument is mostly based on never seeing a Maui's dolphin, then it's flimsy at best. Ask yourself this. What would any Taranaki fisherman gain by ever reporting a sighting when the retention of their income level depends entirely on not seeing one? No wonder they are not happy about observers having to be on board when they are set-netting between 2 and 7 nautical miles.

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Taranaki commercial fishermen and processing companies spokesman Keith Mawson has talked realistically of other factors contributing to the Maui's demise. Predators, pollution and disease are all valid contributors, but for him to make the claim that set-nets are "not to blame" is fantastical and helps his case not one jot.

As far as University of Otago associate professor Liz Slooten is concerned, those factors come in far behind the impact of monofilament fishing nets. Slooten has been studying Hector's and Maui's dolphins since the 1980s and is considered a world expert.

I was also surprised at Mr Mawson's thesis on TV One's Close Up that if this were happening on land then farmers would be compensated. That's debatable, but farmers do own their land and fishermen don't own the sea. Bit of a departure from logic there.

Mr Mawson mostly talks using only monetary figures - jobs and unquantified estimates of income lost to the region - as if this argument alone will trump the Government's decision. Usually it works but not this time.

Eventually, I'm sure the fishermen will get past their feelings of powerlessness and frustration at the set-net decision. I genuinely feel for them despite not agreeing with them. Nor am I gloating. We both lost.

I just wonder if they, and their supporters, can extend the same courtesy to me over the same powerlessness and frustration I feel when yet another global species goes extinct due to the twin forces of overpopulation and greed.

Maybe it's because humanity is heading down the very same track, and much sooner than anyone bargained for, that causes such outrage and sadness about the loss of a non-human species. History tells us that their loss is a precursor to our own inevitable demise.

In a perfect world the extinction of the "man's dominion over nature" brigade will come first. There are just way too many humans and not enough dolphins for my own ecocentric tastes. At least, as a species, dolphins have been scientifically proven to be intelligent. The jury is definitely still out on us.

- Waikato Times


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