Element - - Cover Story -

Imag­ine if there were only 110 ki­wis left in the wild. That’s how many Maui’s dol­phins there are be­lieved to be. Now crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, they are found only on the west coast of the North Is­land. And stud­ies es­ti­mate that while there were 26,000 Hec­tors dol­phins liv­ing around New Zealand in the 1970s, only about 7,000, or less than a third, re­main.

The big­gest threat to Hec­tor’s and Maui’s dol­phins is the use of set nets and trawler fish­ing. A 2008 re­port by the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Water and At­mo­spheric Re­search (NIWA) es­ti­mated that 110 to 150 Hec­tor’s and Maui’s dol­phins die in com­mer­cial set nets ev­ery year. To help pre­vent this the gov­ern­ment im­posed a va­ri­ety of re­gional bans and other re­stric­tions on set net­ting, trawl­ing and drift net­ting in coastal wa­ters in 2008.

Re­cently, con­ser­va­tion­ists have called for the ex­ten­sion of the ban in Taranaki af­ter what is be­lieved to be a Maui’s dol­phin was killed by a set net there in Jan­uary. There are also fears the cur­rent gov­ern­ment has un­der­mined the pro­tec­tion by de­cid­ing to re-open a pop­u­lar coast­line at the tip of the South Is­land’s east coast to com­mer­cial but­ter­fish net­ting and for ama­teur set net use.

The New Zealand Seafood In­dus­try Coun­cil has re­sisted the im­po­si­tion of the set net ban from the be­gin­ning as “ab­so­lutely point­less and un­nec­es­sary”, ar­gu­ing that no ver­i­fied dol­phin deaths had been re­ported since ear­lier pro­tec­tion mea­sures were put in place. In light of the most re­cent in­ci­dent, it dis­missed calls to ex­tend the ban as a “knee jerk re­ac­tion”.

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