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Fishermen Propose New Protection for Dolphins

Welfare Sustainability Processing +6 more

NEW ZEALAND - Taranaki Fishermen and fish processing companies who expect to be put out of business by the proposal to extend the set net exclusion zone around Cape Egmont to Hawera have brought forward an innovative approach involving collaborative management of the zone.

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This alternative approach is contained in a submission by the fishing industry to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Keith Mawson a spokesman for local fishers and processing companies says that the proposed exclusion zone is a blunt instrument and he believes much better approaches are available.

"It will do nothing to protect the Maui's dolphins and it will be the final nail in the coffin of the local industry and Port Taranaki as a fishing port.

"It's a case of mutually- assured extinction out of which no one will be winners - not the dolphins and not the fishers."

"I am sure with a bit of collective goodwill we can do better than that," he says.

The fishermen are proposing the formation of a Steering Group made up of representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Conservation, local government, local advocates for the dolphins, Iwi, other stakeholders and the industry.

"Everyone would have to participate with an open mind, ourselves included, if a positive outcome is to arise from this approach," he says.

The local fishers have a significant potential contribution they can make to preservation of the species and could include an active reporting programme for sightings, assistance to DOC with DNA testing to identify the species and its movements, voluntary restrictions on set netting where sightings have taken place, Government observers on boats and use of acoustic "pingers" on set nets designed to alert the dolphins of the presence of nets.

"We would be happy to discuss these and any other measures proposed by other stakeholders. We would also be willing to act quickly on implementing measures where they are agreed.

"We would expect that in the context of these measures that we would continue set netting in the inshore fishery in the current allowable zone," he says.

According to Mr Mawson a key to the problem of a management regime is the lack of information. These dolphins are not easily identified. While the Maui's dolphins are principally located in the Manukau to Port Waikato area and their range of travel is small, there has been no detailed research to accurately map the location and travel of these dolphins.

"This is why a blunt instrument like an exclusion zone is not going to work. With the exclusion of fishing from their current range, factors such as shark and orca predation and disease are likely the major contributors to declining numbers. We believe we can assist with increasing the availability of information and supporting more refined approaches to protection, which also have a greater chance of success.

"We have reached the point with this exclusion proposal where the livelihood of our businesses and the future of Port Taranaki as a fishing port are seriously at risk. Something like 40-50 jobs are in jeopardy together with NZ$15 million of annual economic revenue. The proposed exclusion strategy comes at a very high cost with limited chance of success.

Up until the accidental capture of a single dolphin in January this year there had been no reported research sightings or capture in the proposed exclusion zone for 25 years.

"What's more, there is no clear evidence that the dolphin accidentally captured in January was in fact a Maui's Dolphin. At present this is just supposition. We believe there is a strong probability that it was a Hector's Dolphin which had ranged north from South Island waters which seems to be increasingly common for this species. Hector's Dolphins still have large populations, mainly in South Island waters.

"We will be seeking support from Government, the local councils and community for our collaborative approach that does not involve destruction of the industry and to demonstrate that we have a real alternative to the heavy handed exclusion zone," says Mr Mawson.