South Taranaki Star
Fishing restrictions to stay as dolphin protection focus shifts
Confident the risk of fishing to Māui and Hector’s dolphins is being successfully managed, the Government says it is now focusing on reducing the threat posed by toxoplasmosis.
Despite the shift in focus a government spokesperson said it had no intention of dialling back commercial fishing restrictions put in place to protect the species.
On Friday, the commercial fishing industry called for the Government to stop treating it as the primary cause of death for Māui and Hector’s dolphins and instead focus on toxoplasmosis, a parasite spread through cat poo, as the leading threat to the dolphins.
The industry lobby group New Zealand Seafood called out the Government out over its apparent ‘‘lack of action’’ following advice in November from the New Zealand Conservation Authority that failing to address the threat of toxoplasmosis would likely to lead to the extinction of Hector’s and Māui dolphins.
Questions about what action the Government was taking were sent to Conservation Minister Kiri Allan and Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker and were answered by ‘‘a government spokesperson’’ via email.
The spokesperson said Hector’s and Māui dolphins ‘‘are a high priority for this government’’.
Hector’s dolphins, found in the coastal waters of the South Island are estimated to number just under 15,000, while the North Island’s Māui dolphin is thought to number just 55, making it one of the world’s rarest marine mammal.
‘‘Significant new protection measures to protect the dolphins were implemented in October 2020, effectively reducing the threat of fishing to Māui dolphins to almost zero,’’ the spokesperson said.
‘‘Our primary focus now is to address the threat of toxoplasmosis to the dolphins.’’
The Department of Conservation (DOC) provides tips on keeping dolphins safe from toxoplasmosis, a parasite which makes its way into the water from cat scat.
These measures include keeping cats indoors, not abandoning unwanted cats, disposing of cat faeces in the rubbish bin instead of the toilet, and neutering cats.
Wetland conservation, including green spaces in backyards, can also help filter water and stop eggs reaching the ocean.
DOC has created two separate research plans: a five-year research strategy for Hector’s and Māui dolphins 2021 and the draft Hector’s and Māui dolphin Toxoplasmosis Science Plan.
So far this year $6250 has been spent on necropsies (autopsies on animals) of recovered carcasses to assess cause of death and to investigate for evidence of toxoplasma gondii, the spokesperson said.
‘‘None of these have been recorded as dying from the disease.’’
The spokesperson said the Government was committed to meeting the objectives of the Threat Management Plan.
‘‘The Māui dolphin population remains nationally critical, as such all steps are being taken to meet the population objectives of the Hector’s and Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan.
‘‘These include reducing deaths from fishing and toxoplasmosis to near zero.’’
Earlier in the week Keith Mawson, owner of New Plymouth fish processor and retailer Egmont Seafoods, questioned whether some commercial fishing might be allowed back into areas previously closed if toxoplasmosis was established as the major issue.
But the government spokesperson said it does not plan to remove any fishing restrictions that have been put in place to protect Māui dolphins.