On the 24th June, the Government released its long-awaited plan to help protect Hectors (and Maui) dolphins. This is the end of a process that began 2 years ago and is the result of many meetings, plans, submissions and feedback from all – including the fishing industry, conservationists, scientists, and us, the tourism industry who make a living from our interaction with this very special dolphin.
The reason this is so important is that it is a once in 20-year event to help secure the future for these rare native dolphins.
So, what happened? We are going to focus on the area off Banks Peninsula, our home patch, and talk about the changes coming in from the 1st October 2020.
1.A nationwide ban on drift netting
This is a good move but in reality, this fishing method doesn’t exist in 2020, so whilst it does ‘plug a hole’ for the future it’s not that meaningful.
2. An extension of current set-net closures, and the creation of new areas closed to set-netting, around Banks Peninsula. (see map 1)
The decision is to create new ‘set net free’ areas both north and south of Banks Peninsula – good news for the local population of dolphins.
However, it creates a ‘death zone’ in the space between these two banned areas, ironically in the area outside Akaroa Harbour. We lobbied hard to close this area to set net fishing too. Not only do we know dolphins are present there, but also it creates a worse impact by forcing fishing activity from the banned area to the unbanned area outside of Akaroa.
The ministers have proposed to ‘consult on further extending the commercial and recreational set-net closures around Banks Peninsula’. They have said ‘consultation is required because this measure was not included in options discussed with the public previously.’ There is no information on how and when this discussion takes place.
In addition the proposal does not appear to plug the current issue which allows recreational flounder set nets inside the upper parts of Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbours, Pigeon Bay and Port Levy from April to September which we know are a clear threat to dolphins. That is very disappointing.
3.Increasing marine mammal sanctuary area around Banks Peninsula. (see map 2)
The proposal is to extend the sanctuary up and down the coast and further out to sea, but to be clear this is not a fishing restriction.
The main benefit to this extension is it addresses the risks of future seismic surveying and seabed mining by prohibiting new permits in the expanded marine mammal protection areas. To our knowledge none are planned here but it does prevent a possible future issue.
You can submit your support for this here (deadline 21st July 2020)
4.Roll out the toxoplasmosis action plan
This is a disease probably contained in cat faeces washing into rivers with the dolphins somehow ingesting enough to kill them. There have been some dead dolphins examined on beaches with toxoplasmosis being the most likely final cause of death. This may be an issue for the dolphins or may not. We agree it needs further scientific research and planning.
5.No restrictions on trawling
There are NO new restrictions on trawling at this stage in or around Banks Peninsula.
However, the minister (of fisheries) wants to look at the ways trawling is carried out, such as trawl speed and headline height of the net, in an effort to further reduce the risk to dolphins while still allowing use of the fishery.
It’s hard to know what this means but we suspect the status quo will be retained, a disappointing outcome.
We’re grateful for all the work that has been done by NZ government officials into coming up with the plan and for the ministers for their action to date. Further protections have been put in place to secure the future of these dolphins so we can’t be unhappy with that.
But we’re very keen for the ‘death zone’ to be closed near Akaroa, and to hear more about the trawling study. And in due course hear more about the real threat from toxoplasmosis.