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The Real Value of Hector’s

Putting the $ in Hector’$

Can you really put a dollar value on a species like Hector’s dolphins? Or should you?

Hector’s dolphin

Surely the conservation and sustainability of our only native dolphin is enough to drive the correct decisions by our government.

It turns out it’s a little more complex than that; the fishing industry has a powerful and well resourced voice that is very good at making itself heard. And they’ve come up with some very real arguments that are delaying further protection of Hector’s dolphins.

So at Black Cat Cruises, we decided to step it up see if we could provide some more information to balance the economic argument of fishing with the economic benefit derived through tourism activities. We did this for the hub of Hector’s activity which is Akaroa/Banks Peninsula because  it’s our home patch and an area we know best, but the results apply nationally.

What’s been done in the past?

There has been one attempt at putting a value on the species in 2014. An international NGO (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) commissioned a study of the preferences of New Zealanders via a survey. This was based on what is known as a ‘non-value’ use. Forgetting economic impact what would Kiwis be prepared to pay to keep the species around. How much do we care in $ terms?

This study determined values of between $355,000 and $440,000 per dolphin. This means that the estimated 130 dolphins killed every year in fishing nets represents an estimated $46 million NZD annual ‘welfare’ loss to the people of New Zealand.

Hector’s dolphins

There have been other studies globally which try and put a value on a single animal. For example in 2011, R. C. Anderson assessed the extent and economic value of manta ray watching in the Maldives. The study showed a manta ray might generate around US$100,000 in tourism dollars through a lifetime while only worth US$500 if caught and sold.

And elsewhere in NZ there have been numerous studies. Otago Peninsula has two rare marine species, the Royal Albatross and the Yellow-Eyed penguin, which attract tourists from around the world. Tisdell (2007) applied an Economic Impact Analysis (EIA) to establish the contribution of these two species to Dunedin’s regional economy.  The study found that the annual turnover of the tourism operators directly offering eco-tours was estimated to be of the order of $6.5 M and 70 full-time persons were employed in the industry. It was estimated that as a result of the eco-tourism associated with these species, approximately $100 million in GDP was generated in the Dunedin regional economy (directly or indirectly) and that 800-1000 full-time equivalent jobs were sustained.

What about Hector’s?

We appointed Market Economics to assess the economic impact of Hector’s dolphins at Banks Peninsula. You can download the 28 page report here. Importantly, we decided to measure the direct and indirect dollar impact from Hector’s dolphins tourism from international visitors only – rather than pushing it out further. This is quite a conservative approach, but accurate and dependable.

Akaroa Harbour

The report found Hector’s dolphin tourism is an important part of the Banks Peninsula economy and the wider Christchurch region.  The relatively high incidence of Hector’s means that eco-tours offer an almost guaranteed sighting on every trip. This high success is important in drawing many tourists to Akaroa, Christchurch, and to New Zealand.

In today’s terms, Hector’s eco-tourism, and the wider economic impact is estimated to range between $22M and $25M in value added which sustains the equivalent of between 473 to 530 jobs in the Canterbury economy.  The national value of Hector’s eco-tourism is estimated at between $28M and $31M in value added which sustains the equivalent of between 541 to 607 jobs in the national economy.

Black Cat Cruises at Akaroa Main Wharf

In addition, looking at regional disbursement which is very important to NZ and to Christchurch.

64% of people rated dolphins as either very important or important in their decision to visit Christchurch in the first place. This means that the dolphins were a key decision influencer on whether to come to Canterbury at all for around 48,000 people in 2018.

In addition 45% of people rated dolphins as either very important or important in their decision to visit NZ. Clearly the viewing of native wildlife in their natural habitat is important to our international visitors and specifically seeing dolphins was a key influencer in whether to come to NZ at all for around half of our visitors. At an average spend of $3,300 per person who visits NZ, the dolphins influenced around $111M in national spend. ($3300 x 75,000 people x 45%).

Taking this into account, and our marketing position of 100% Pure, it’s also fair to assume our potential visitors expect us to be actively protecting our native dolphins. How much damage is done to our brand with headlines like this? ‘Five Hector’s dolphins killed by commercial set net’ from an article in March 2018. Or this one ‘Three Hector’s dolphins killed in net off Canterbury coast’ from February 2019.

Not all about the numbers

Clearly the protection of a species like Hector’s dolphin is more important than dollars but it’s important to assess these numbers when looking at the economic impact on fisheries. The tourism industry has grown substantially in the 10 years since the Hector’s threat management plan was last assessed (and yes that also comes with its challenges).

We’re calling on the Ministers of Fisheries and Conservation to take the tourism economic impact of Hector’s into account when assessing further protection for our dolphins. If the above numbers balance off against those from fishing, then the argument becomes solely about conservation – and that’s an easy one to win!

How you can help!

The Hector’s and Māui dolphins Threat Management Plan is coming up for review and we have a small window of time to help. We are calling on our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to put much needed better protection in place for these endemic and endangered dolphins. We want to see protection for them out to 100 metres in depth to protect their habitat and the species from extinction.

THE MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR DOLPHIN

New Zealand’s own dolphin

By any measure Hector’s dolphins are a very special animal. Not only are they the smallest dolphin in the world, they are also the only one native to New Zealand. They’re as kiwi as the kiwi. If that is not enough, just like New Zealanders, they are very friendly, often investigating boats and people in the water.

So beloved are the dolphins, that an industry has sprung up to take people out to see or swim with them. Much of the Hector’s activity is based in the beautiful sheltered harbour of Akaroa. Black Cat Cruises was the first operator in 1985 and with other operators its estimated around 1 million people have seen Hector’s dolphins in the last 33 years. It’s an unrivalled and incredible setting to appreciate these very special dolphins and without exception people who see these dolphins form a connection.

It’s estimated the Akaroa Hector’s dolphin industry generates $24.5M* a year in direct and indirect revenue with $19.5M of that for Canterbury alone. This equates to 476 jobs (419 in Canterbury) The dolphins are the must do attraction in Akaroa and bring vital tourism dollars to the region. Nearly $100M in the last 4 years. Plus when asked how important was a dolphin tour to the decision to visit New Zealand, over 45% stated it was either important or very important; indicating the nature experience is a key factor in choosing to come to New Zealand.

But there’s a problem.

Set Net drownings

Hector’s are also one of the world’s rarest dolphin species. It’s estimated there are somewhere between 8000 to 15000 Hectors left – fewer than 30% of their original population. And their close cousin, the North Island Maui dolphin has just 55 individuals. The situation is so dire that in 2017 the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) named the two species in their threatened and endangered species list. You know it’s bad when the Americans are calling us out…

So what’s happening? The greatest threat to the Hector’s dolphins is getting caught and drowned in set nets. As their name suggests, fishers drop the net to the ocean floor and come back later to pull it up. Unfortunately the net is very difficult for a dolphin to detect and they drown if caught.

It’s not that New Zealand has done nothing. In 1988 the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal sanctuary was put in place which introduced some fishing restrictions especially around set netting in the area. At first glance this sounds like a great move but if you look at the details it provided only a modicum of protection and was far from the ‘sanctuary’ it pretended to be. In 2008 more protection was added by extending the boundaries.

However today there is the crazy situation where nets can still be set in and around Banks Peninsula in areas where the dolphins are known to range. Commercial set netting occurs from 4 miles out to sea and flounder nets can be set in Akaroa Harbour from April to October.

In recent years this led to the very sad (and totally unacceptable) situation in March 2018 where

5 dolphins were killed in one set net off the Canterbury coast. And in Akaroa Harbour where a dolphin drowned in 2015. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Compounding the problem is that these dolphins only breed once every 2-3 years. So any death in the population is very hard to replace. Its thought the dolphin population is slowly reducing by 1% per year.

Solution – no more set nets

Right now the NZ government is formulating a plan for discussion. The ‘Threat Management Plan’ is due for release in 2019 and will take a scientific look at the current rate of kill and what, if anything, should be done about it.

To us it’s very clear that set netting no longer has a place for NZ fishing. We need better protection for Hectors around the South Island from all set netting – in the areas they range. Studies have shown whilst they are an ‘in-shore’ dolphin, they also range out to sea as much as 25 miles; though the range is more dependent on the depth of the water. Hector’s don’t tend to fish in water deeper than 100M.

We’re seeking to ensure the Banks Peninsula Sanctuary is a safe place for dolphins. We want to see an all year ban of set netting in the harbours, plus an extension of the commercial ban out to 100m depth (around 20 miles). In addition an extension of the sanctuary up and down the South Island. Only this will bring true haven status to the waters of Banks Peninsula.

Not only is that our responsibility as Kaitiakitanga or good guardians, but also it makes good economic sense. The dolphin industry supports an entire sector – literally hundreds of jobs (directly and indirectly) in Canterbury alone and millions of dollars. Commercial set netting accounts for just a handful around Banks Peninsula.

The benefits are clear – protection of one of our most special natives, protection of an entire industry and jobs and economic benefit for NZ.

This  is an urgent problem with a simple solution.

Come on New Zealand, we can do better than this.

 

* GDP – value added spend on day of travel. M.E Consulting ‘Hector’s dolphin eco-tourism economic impact assessment. November 2018.