We are so so pleased to confirm that Black Cat Cruises has just had its Qualmark Gold award renewed. This award is reviewed annually, and is something we are proud to maintain as we continually strive to be a sustainable, world class operation.
” Your award can be proudly displayed as evidence that Black Cat Cruises is committed to protecting our beautiful natural environment, enhancing connections with our local communities, whilst also delivering a quality, safe experience for all visitors.”
Thank you to Qualmark for renewing our
QUALMARK GOLD AWARD
We are whole heartedly grateful for this continued recognition, and would like to shout out to our dedicated crew and team both in Akaroa and Lyttelton that all work so hard to deliver our experiences, whilst caring for both our environment and it’s inhabitants.
When and what is Gold awarded for?
Gold Sustainable Tourism Business Award
A Gold Award recognises the best sustainable tourism businesses in New Zealand, with the delivery of exceptional customer experiences an integral part of everything they do. A Gold Sustainable Tourism Award identifies those businesses leading the way in making the New Zealand tourism industry a world class sustainable visitor destination.
The process to obtain an award be it bronze, silver or gold is extremely thorough and covers four key areas in depth, These are…
Social & People
Environment & Culture
Health, Safety & Wellness
So the next time you are considering a tourism activity in New Zealand we recommend looking for the Qualmark seal.
If you’d like to understand more about who Qualmark are and how they work you can find out more information here.
How much do you know about the different Hector’s Dolphin populations around the country? Where exactly do they live? As an ecotourism operator local to Canterbury, we are obviously guilty of focusing on the 1000 or so dolphins that live around our harbours. Banks Peninsula is of special importance to us, being our home for nearly 40 years. Fortunately, Hector’s Dolphins can be found all around the waters of New Zealand. Today’s blog aims to help you understand a little more about other populations of Hector’s Dolphins beyond the Banks Peninsula area.
NORTH ISLAND DOLPHINS
You may not be aware of an incredibly rare subspecies of the Hector’s Dolphin known as the ‘Maui Dolphins’. They are very similar, but are thought to have been isolated from each other for around 16000 years. Māui dolphins have very slightly larger skulls than Hector’s dolphins and a longer, wider rostrum or snout. With only 56 individuals alive today, they are the rarest marine mammal on the planet. They live in a very small area on the western side of the North Island. The entire species’ survivability rests on 9 female dolphins of calf-rearing age.
Hector’s Dolphins are rarely sighted in the North Island. This is why it’s so important we look after the Maui’s Dolphin subspecies. They are only found on the west coast of the North Island from the New Plymouth area to Maunganui Bluff. Despite their extreme rarity, Maui Dolphins are still in huge danger of being caught in nets from commercial fishers. Bans only exist a few kilometres off shore, but Maui Dolphins go far beyond this area. With the Maui dolphins being even rarer than the kākāpō, should we be risking the death of a single animal, when each one is essential to the overall survivability of the species?
WEST COAST DOLPHINS
As seen in the map on the right, Hector’s Dolphins can be found almost all around the coasts of the South Island.
Black Cat Cruises have always pushed for more protection in our local waters from fishing nets. But we’re still leagues ahead of the West Coast. Namely, nothing in the recently released TMP addresses the areas along the West Coast. Whilst this area has a lower concentration of Fishers, it is unacceptable that they can still operate here almost unhinged. Pictured below are the current areas which ban trawl netting on the West Coast. This will remain completely unchanged following the integration of any of the proposed Threat Management Plan’s options. This area is the least documented area when it comes to Hector’s Dolphins. However, it doesn’t take a marine biologist to see that there are massive areas where Hector’s Dolphins are threatened by trawl netting. Set net bans are only enforced a few kilometres offshore, and don’t go far enough to cover the dolphin’s habitat.
NORTH OF THE SOUTH ISLAND
The Northern tip of the South Island is also home to a large proportion of our remaining Hector’s Dolphins. Alongside Akaroa and Kaikoura, this area provides the best chance for one to encounter a Hector’s Dolphin. However, net-fishing is also common in this area. Pictured below are the current areas which ban trawl net fishing (blue is permanent and red is seasonal). The seasonal ban is an interesting compromise between fishers and conservationists; It protects Hector’s Dolphins in the times they are most likely to be in those areas, whilst still giving Fishers a chance to make a livelihood. The seasonal ban could be an immediate but temporary solution for waters which are currently open to fishers all-year round. This would reduce the chances of Hector’s dolphins being caught as New Zealand gradually transitions to complete bans in waters less than 100M deep. This is what the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has recommended, and we currently remain within the 8% of countries which have ignored their advice.
THE SOUTHERN TIP
The bottom of the South Island is home to the smallest population of Hector’s Dolphins, possibly in the low hundreds. However, fishing is a popular industry in Southern towns, and dolphins have certainly been caught in fishing nets in these areas. The Northern and Southern tips of the South Island have had some expansions to restrictions, similar to what will happen around Banks Peninsula. Further restrictions to Trawl-netting (such as smaller net openings and a slower speed) may be enforced in additional areas.
Globally, scientists are saying we need to put aside 30% of our oceans for biodiversity to remain. Only 0.4% of the ocean New Zealand control is protected, according to Livia Esterhazy (WWF NZ). Hector’s Dolphins are far more than a beautiful animal for humans to enjoy. They are an apex predator and without them, the entire ecosystem of New Zealand’s coasts would crumble. If states like California and countries like Finland can fully ban set-nets, what’s New Zealand’s excuse?
WHAT CAN YOU DO RIGHT NOW?
Did you know that there is less than a week left for public submissions to the Ministry for Primary Industries? Please click on this link, follow the instructions, and in less than 3 minutes, YOU can make a difference. If enough like-minded people email their opinions on their Threat Management Plan, (we have a template you can use) the MPI will have to listen and make positive changes.
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.
Anyone, including you, can submit which option they support and why. It is due by 6 December 2021 and can be submitted via email dolphinTMP@mpi.govt.nz or by this survey.
If you want more information on the four options, you can read the Ministry for Primary Industries 50 page report, or watch this video (starts at 5.15) but we’ve summarised it below.
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.