Hector’s Dolphins SOS….
We can never know how many of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin’s die in fishing nets every year. Many reports are under-estimated and require self reporting by fishermen.
Even so, some organisations claim up to 150 Hector’s dolphins are killed in nets each year.
Fair to say, the Hector’s and Maui dolphins are still in need of urgent help.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has recently asked the public to help them decide how Hector’s dolphins can be further protected from fishing nets around the South Island. They’ve outlined 4 options, and in this blog we will explain why option 4 is the best for saving lives, whilst also asking for additional measures to be added.
We’ve been advocating for additional protection for the dolphins for some time. Some new fishing restrictions were brought in last year, but they were far from perfect. You can read more about our take on the 2020 protections here.
In particular, we were very concerned that the plan opened up a ‘death zone’ off Akaroa Harbour. As of now, fishers can use nets outside of Akaroa Harbour. And is some months inside the harbour too.
The Options from Ministry for Primary Industries
Do nothing. The Ministry themselves accept this is not an option.
A plan to ‘work together’. Fishers will try to stop catching dolphins, and when they do, they must report it. This involves the use of monitoring cameras on fishers’ boats. If they keep catching dolphins, the ministry will give advice and maybe suggest some extra preventative measures. The issue here is that there are no enforced obligations to change fishing habits. It might take years for real change to take place. In the meantime, dolphins will continue to die. It’s like choosing not to install fire alarms in your first home. Then, only after it burns down, do you decide it’s a good time to take some preventative measures. It’s too little, too late.
Will look at making some changes to trawl fishing in certain areas of the South Island. Namely, reducing the speed of boats with nets attached (to 4kph), and making the net opening smaller (1M height). These measures, as admitted by the report itself, may not even make a difference. The success of these supposed ‘preventive’ measures are all based on seven anecdotes from fishers. This is an extremely small sample of evidence, which also has no scientific backing. We’d rather not put our faith in a maybe.
Not only this, but option 3 keeps the death zone right outside of Akaroa harbour open. Look at the maps below. The yellow areas on the left map show the current areas where trawl fishing is banned. The map on the right shows orange areas where extra restrictions will be imposed, but the gap between the orange creates another death zone. Given what we’ve said about the doubt we have of these restrictions, this option has few merits overall.
Increases the areas which ban set nets, as seen in the figure below. This means larger areas where dolphins are safe from set-nets, which can make an immediate difference to the number of dolphins caught. The extended areas can be seen in the dark blue areas highlighted in the map below. This is good news and one which Black Cat Cruises and the Ministry for Primary Industries support. While it’s the best option of the four, it is still lacking. For a start, it makes no changes to trawl-net fishing, which is just as dangerous. Trawl-fishers will continue operating right outside of Akaroa harbour.
What we’re going to ask for on top of Option 4
All four options are written on the basis that a certain amount of ‘by catch’ is acceptable to New Zealanders. We don’t think that’s right. The plan calls for a goal to catch/kill around 33 dolphins a year on the East Coast of the South Island each year. It’s claimed that’s a sustainable goal and it will maintain the population of dolphins to 80% of historic levels. We want to stop the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of dolphins, and in doing so make the population soar back to 100% of historic levels.
If we’re serious about making a real positive impact on the dolphins, there should have been an additional option….
The International Union for conservation of nature (ICUN) made a clear recommendation years ago. They called for consistent protection throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep; a ban to set and trawl net fishing in these areas. The map below shows what they have in mind, with red being areas that can be net-fished commercially, and green being areas where net fishing is banned.
At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2021, the Director General said that the vast majority of IUCN Resolutions have been acted on. Only 8% of the Resolutions are being ignored by the relevant countries. Unfortunately, New Zealand is part of this group of 8%. This is an embarrassment.
We will ask for the ICUN’s option to be added to the proposed list, as the other options do not make enough of a difference. Also, the plan is completely silent on the ability to be able to set nets in 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, and we will ask for these areas to be specifically banned to all net-fishing.
Whilst we appreciate the ability to engage further on dolphin protection, the options (with the exception of closing the death zone) won’t have much impact on dolphin protection.
We have chosen to focus this blog post primarily on the areas surrounding Banks Peninsula. This is because it’s the area directly relevant to Black Cat Cruises, and where we have the most experience with the current issues of ‘bycatching’. Continue to follow our social media for a blog post in the future which addresses bycatching nation-wide.
We need a future-focused conservation option. We need more significant protection. We need the population of Hector’s Dolphins to soar above the endangered level. We need the option to implement full protection out to 100m in depth (where Hector’s Dolphins live).
What would we like you to do now?
If you’d like to consult on the plan, please go ahead. Add your voice to the conversation. Black Cat Cruises will be supporting option 4, and asking for additional protection in line with the IUCN option – limiting nets throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep.
We understand that fishers need to catch fish. However, putting bans in these small areas, which are already so close to the shore, will keep our beautiful native dolphin species alive.