Halt called on commercial permits for marine animal businesses in Marlborough
The Department of Conservation has issued an interim year-long ban on any new commercial marine animal viewing companies in Marlborough.
For the first time in DOC's history, a halt has been called on the issue of any new permits in a bid to help protect vulnerable marine species.
Staff have begun a year-long research programme into the negative effects of commercial activity on marine mammals.
And it looks likely the temporary ban could be extended even longer than the initial 12-month period.
The historic move, which came into force on Thursday, is to give staff a chance to analyse current commercial activity levels centred on dolphins, whales and seals in the Marlborough Sounds and both Cloudy and Clifford Bays.
DOC's Sounds operations manager David Hayes said the moratorium is designed to give DOC time to carry out crucial research.
"It allows us to consider what level and kinds of activity are appropriate, as well as identify any research required to assist with this.
"Marlborough Sounds commercial operators already have a strong ethos in protecting marine mammals.
"Most commercial skippers have attended DOC's training programme, which educates skippers on best practice for boating around marine mammals but unfortunately some recreational boaties have caused problems, mainly through ignorance, and have contributed to the harassment of dolphins".
The first marine mammal permit was issued in Marlborough in 1992.
Hayes said a projected increase in tourism needed to be taken into consideration to help look at ways to safeguard the mammals but questions remained how this would be achieved.
"We need to make good decisions in the future and want to be armed with the best knowledge possible to ensure there is no negative impact.
"Staff will take stock of current impacts and it looks likely the next step will be setting up a research programme.
"I don't think 12 months will be long enough to conduct all the research and we will have to look at expanding the moratorium," he said.
The suspension has been backed by tourism operators and iwi.
Non-commercial interactions with marine mammals will also be investigated.
"Dolphins, whales and seals are all at risk from all boats not following the rules around marine mammals.
"We need to do all we can to ensure people can enjoy these locals without harming their health," said Hayes.
New Zealand's Marine Mammal Protection Regulations (1992) governs commercial operations and behaviour of all people around any marine mammal.
A total of 17 operators are currently permitted to view or swim with marine mammals in the Marlborough Sounds.
Permits are only granted on the premise operators follow strict criteria to ensure the conservation, management and protection of marine mammals.
- The Marlborough Express