The battle between Shane Jones and Greenpeace is heating up as the minister accuses the environmental group of "deifying" Māui dolphins as part of a "cleverly branded" anti-fishing campaign.
Jones, a Cabinet minister, lashed out at Greenpeace last week over its opposition to a water storage dam project in Wairarapa and for supporting a teaching resource's advice to young students to consume less meat.
The New Zealand First MP is now hitting out at the environmental group again for advocating for more restrictions on fishing in Taranaki to help the critically endangered Māui dolphin population recover.
Jones told Newshub "green prophets" have "deified" the Māui dolphin which he says is just a type of hector's dolphin that's been "cleverly branded" by Greenpeace.
"The livelihood and the security of our human communities must never be allowed to be charmed by the deification of the Māui dolphin," Jones, the Minister for Regional Economic Development, said.
"I've been out on fishing boats in Taranaki... when I went up to Taranaki, they said, 'Well, Scotland's got the Loch Ness Monster [which is] much talked about and rarely seen, and we've got Māui dolphin'," Jones said.
"I think during the course of this year we're going to have to bring many of these issues to a head."
Greenpeace has been outspoken in its support of restricting fishing in Taranaki to support the Māui dolphin population - a subspecies of the Hector's dolphin, New Zealand's only endemic cetacean species.
"The fishing industry has been killing off Māui dolphins for years, and their denials are now putting the entire New Zealand seafood export market at risk," Greenpeace NZ executive director Russel Norman said last year.
Māui dolphins were once known as the North Island Hector's dolphin but since 2002 they have been classified as separate subspecies. They are almost identical to Hector's dolphins except for having larger skulls and longer snouts.
It's understood there are just 63 Māui dolphins left. The subspecies has been isolated from their more numerous relatives, South Island Hector's dolphin, for 15-16,000 years, the Department of Conservation says.
Greenpeace's ocean's campaigner Jessica Desmond has responded to Jones, saying it's a "pity he isn't able to imagine a world where people can both have good jobs, and our native species and nature thrive".
She added, "Perhaps if the minister spent less time talking about Greenpeace, there would be more time for working on a vision all New Zealanders deserve where we both take care of our communities and stop Māui dolphins going extinct on our watch."
The campaigner described Jones as the "de facto Minister of Fisheries" and accused him of receiving financial backing from the fishing industry.
Jones has a long history of involvement in the fisheries sector and New Zealand's Māori fisheries settlement, having chaired Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Māori Fisheries Commission.
The minister clapped back at Desmond, telling Newshub regional areas of New Zealand depend on "legacy industries" like fishing, which he described as an "economic birthright".
"Taranaki fishers will have cameras on boats so these Greenpeace clerics are preaching falsehoods. I can promise for every eco-rant in 2020 we will match it with a common-sense clarion call."
Some restrictions have been put in place in recent years on fishing in Taranaki in the Māui dolphin's known range to protect them from decline.
The Department of Conservation considers set nets - which stay fixed in the water - as the "greatest fishing-related threat to Māui dolphins", hence further restrictions put in place in 2013 on where fishermen can operate.
Egmont Seafoods managing director Keith Mawson described the restrictions as a "real frustration".
"We've already had huge impacts on our livelihoods... we're seeing fishermen exiting the industry because of the restrictions that have been put in place... and it's going to be of no benefit to the dolphins," he told Newshub.
"Greenpeace, WWF, Forest & Bird - all the environmental groups - I think have been utilising the Māui dolphins issue to try and remove fishing off the coastal waters of Taranaki."
Mawson said fishermen are "conservationists in their own right" and that they don't want to be catching species that have no commercial value to them and impacting the environment they're operating in.
He said fishermen in the region have welcomed observers onto their vessels, as well as cameras and electronic reporting, to be "more transparent".
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash announced in June 2019 that commercial fishing vessels at greatest risk of encountering Māui dolphins would be required to operate with on-board cameras from 1 November.
Budget 2019 set aside $17.1 million over four years for purchase, installation and maintenance of the cameras, as well as the costs of storage, review and analysis of the footage.
The Opposition's conservation spokesperson, Sarah Dowie, described the announcement at the time as "watered down" because it would only apply to about 28 vessels in the waters where Māui dolphins live.
Greenpeace welcomed the Government's announcement at the time but said more needed to be done, calling for cameras to be installed on fishing vessels nationwide.
Desmond said successive governments have "failed to bring dangerous fishing methods into line or enforce compliance" with commercial fishers.
Mawson said it is Greenpeace that is failing to acknowledge that there are other threats to the Māui dolphin population, including toxoplasmosis - a confirmed cause of death in Hector's and Māui dolphins.
The dolphins can become infected by the parasitic disease - which reproduces in cats - by consuming contaminated water or prey.
Mawson said even if fishing was completely removed from the Taranaki coastline the Māui dolphin population could "still be doomed".