Seafood NZ angered by anti-hoki campaign

Maui's dolphins are the world's rarest species of dolphin (File)
Maui's dolphins are the world's rarest species of dolphin (File)

A conservation group has received a stern telling-off from Seafood NZ after campaigning for New Zealand hoki to be taken off the McDonald's menu to "save the Maui's dolphins".

The campaign was launched by German organisation NABU International after a Newshub investigation last week uncovered evidence of understated catches and mass fish-dumping in New Zealand waters.

NABU has also asserted that during the 2012/13 fishing season, the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) was involved in covering up the death of a Maui's dolphin, a critically endangered species.

The organisation has adopted the slogan: "Buy New Zealand fish, get dead Maui's dolphins free."

But Seafood NZ has since struck back at the claims, calling them "false" -- and saying NABU are misguided in their efforts to protect the world's rarest dolphin species.

"McDonald's use New Zealand hoki. Maui dolphins are not found in the deep water where hoki are caught," Seafood NZ chief executive Tim Pankhurst said.

"Conservation measures for the prevention of Maui dolphin captures are working, with no sightings or captures of the dolphin in more than 1961 observer days since 2012."

That explanation is unlikely to put much of a dampener on NABU's campaign, however, with MPI data viewed by many as unreliable in the wake of last week's leak.

NABU claims it has a statement from a commercial fisher who said a government observer told him he had "seen nothing" when a Maui's dolphin was hauled into the vessel they were on.

And the leaked MPI documents show that Maui's dolphins -- now estimated to have a population numbering less than 60 -- are occasionally caught in fishing nets but not always reported.

But Mr Pankhurst says NABU's claims of a suppressed Maui's dolphin death are untrue -- and believes the presence of government observers on fishing vessels backs that up.

"The effectiveness of these [conservation] measures has been verified by independent government observers on board fishing vessels in the Maui dolphin's known habitat range."

Mr Pankhurst says NABU's "unsubstantiated claims" threaten "our $1.7 billion export industry and the 26,000 jobs it provides for New Zealanders."