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More needed to save Maui's dolphin – IWC

Tuesday 10 Jun 2014 5:45 p.m.

There are only thought to be around 55 Maui's dolphins left (file)

There are only thought to be around 55 Maui's dolphins left (file)

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The Conservation Minister has come under attack for not doing enough to save the critically endangered Maui's dolphin.

The criticisms come after an International Whaling Commission's (IWC) Scientific Committee report, which reiterates its "extreme concern" about the decline of the population of 55 dolphins.

It also calls for a set-net ban and trawling fisheries throughout the dolphin's habitat from Maunganui bluff to Whanganui River with an "ample buffer zone" to improve chances of a population increase.

The report noted an expert panel of scientists convened by the New Zealand Government in 2012 had estimated five Maui's dolphins were killed each year in trawl and gillnet fisheries.

"The level of trawl mortality is unchanged and continued dolphin deaths in gillnets are due to a lack of protection in some areas and incomplete protection in others," the report says.

"The current management situation falls short of that required to reverse the Maui's dolphin decline."

It commended the Government for the protection measures already in place and the 350sq km extended set-net ban off the coast of Taranaki last year, but says it "falls significantly short of what the IWC previously recommended".

The World Wildlife Fund New Zealand says the report confirms the population is near extinction and more protections need to be put in place.

"New Zealand prides itself on its international reputation and has successfully fought for protection of whales through the IWC; now it's time to listen. If we are to continue to have credible standing at the IWC when we call for protection of whales then we need to listen to them on Maui’s dolphins as well," marine species advocate Milena Palka says.

"The world is watching us. We need to do the right thing and save these dolphins."

Opposition parties have the same sentiment and believe the Government should do more.

Green Party oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes says the report is "hugely embarrassing" for the Government.

"It highlights the significant failure of National's response to protecting the Maui's dolphin," he says.

The party wants to stop all fishing methods lethal to dolphins in the Maui's sanctuary, work with the fishing industry to move toward more sustainable fishing practices and extend the protection zone for the dolphins in line with IWC recommendations.

Labour Party conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson says there are growing calls for an international boycott on buying New Zealand fish because fishing practices threaten the species.

"It is the Government that sets the rules and it needs to listen to the best scientific advice available if we are to protect our dolphins and our fishing industry," she says. 

But Conservation Minister Nick Smith says that's exactly what the Government is doing.

He says set-net bans are already in place in all areas the dolphin has been seen and was extended last year to include ocean off the coast of Taranaki.

Independent observers on fishing vessels have not seen the rare dolphin outside the protected areas in almost 200 trips, Dr Smith says.

"I'd be happy to review the areas of the fishing ban if there are reliable reports of Maui's dolphin beyond protected area."

A set-net ban would be extended where there is scientific research to support it, he says.

Dr Smith says he's always been in favour of the Maui's dolphin, much to the chagrin of the fishing industry who criticised him when the set-net ban was extended last year.

The IWC wants the Government to commit to specific population increase targets and timelines and provide an annual progress report.

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