New Zealand's fishing industry ignoring science - endangering dolphins
According to the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, more animal and plant species are threatened with extinction than ever before.
Aerial shot of a group of Maui's dolphins. © Steve Dawson.
October 2008. Native only to New Zealand, Hector's and Maui's dolphins are the rarest dolphin species are both highly endangered. Monday's Red List will once again confirm their respective status as Endangered and Critically Endangered, which earns them the prospect of impending extinction.
Gill netting and trawling are the chief threats to the survival of these animals. Recent announcements to extend no-fishing zones and improve controls by the New Zealand government are significant steps forward. But the fishing industry does not accept the precarious conservation status of Hector's and Maui's dolphins and has said it will challenge the Government in court.
Just 111 Maui's dolphins left alive
Four dead Hector's dolphins caught-up in fishing nets. Dolphins aren't able to detect the fine netting, often swimming straight into them. Unable to free themselves, they then drown within a couple of minutes.
Since the introduction of nylon filament nets in the 1970s, Hector's dolphin numbers have dropped from 29,000 to less than 8,000. Hector's dolphins can not sustain more than 10 deaths a year, but between 110 and 150 animals die in commercial gillnets. The situation for Maui's dolphins, a subspecies of Hector's dolphins, is even worse. Ninety percent are already lost, and a mere 111 animals survive. Maui's dolphins will become extinct if more than one animal is killed every 5-7 years. But at least 12 animals have died in the past 7 years.
NZ fishing industry taking legal actions against protection
Care for the Wild International's (CWI) Chief Executive Dr Barbara Maas, says, "New Zealand's fishing industry has tried to use the courts to get in the way of protection for these supremely vulnerable animals in the past. It lost the case, but last month industry lawyers obtained an injunction on fishing restrictions that would increase the dolphins' chance of survival and were set to come into force this week.
"With a breathtaking disregard for science, public opinion, New Zealand's reputation and one of the rarest animals on earth, the fishing industry seems determined to continue killing Hector's and Maui's dolphins faster than they can breed."
CWI says that after years of consultation, working group meetings and research the protection measures announced in May would at best hold populations at severely depleted levels. "Fishing industry representatives have participated in these discussions from the outset," says Dr Maas, "but because they don't like what is already a poor compromise for the dolphins, they now want to run rough-shod over the entire process. In doing so the industry yet again displays utter contempt for the New Zealand public, 83% of which is in favour of even stronger protection measures. It is also willing to squander precious government resources and taxpayers money by dragging this case into court.
The IUCN consists of more than 1,000 governmental and non-governmental member organizations, as well as 10,000 scientists from over 160 countries. But, says CWI, New Zealand's fishing industry is adamant that it is better informed.
Seafood Industry Council
"The Seafood Industry Council (SeaFIC) represents the generic interests of the fishing industry. SeaFIC not only denies that Hector's dolphins are endangered and that populations are declining, it also rejects that entanglement in set nets is the biggest threat. In its submission on the Government's Threat Management Plan, SeaFIC considers the current bases for the IUCN and DOC classifications as well as the public perception of threats to Hector's and Maui's dolphins not credible. SeaFIC also doesn't have much faith in the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries, nor in the scientists who have studied Hector's and Maui's dolphins for over two decades. Incredibly, SeaFIC also questions the authority of independent research. Commenting on a study on Maui's dolphin distribution in West Coast harbours, SeaFIC states, "In our view there is more substance in the statutory declarations of commercial fishers who have many years experience fishing in the west coast harbours". Even peer reviewed scientific literature is not good enough for SeaFIC, which does not consider "that publication in the primary scientific literature is sufficient to establish the merit of the work." So who does SeaFIC think we should turn to for advice on this issue? The answer is, its own team of scientists, which it says provides "high quality and credible science advice, and is expected to provide honest and impartial scientific advice."
CWI says, "These are typical bully-boy tactics by a mighty industry not prepared to give an inch. As the saying goes, ‘Fishermen are born honest, but they get over it!' Gillnetting is at best worth less than half of one percent of New Zealand's total fisheries revenue. But the country's fishing industry is caught in a net of denial, deception and ruthless self-serving rhetoric, which threatens to bring down New Zealand's reputation as an environmentally responsible nation."
Hector's Dolphins Facts
„X Hector's dolphins are classified as Endangered by the Red List of Endangered Species. This means that Hector's are "facing a high risk of extinction in the near future".
„X Numbers have declined from 21,000-29,000 in the 1970s to less than 8,000 today.
„X Commercial and recreational fishing is responsible for almost 70% of Hector's dolphin deaths. Because not all deaths are reported, this is a minimum estimate.
„X Other threats include boat strikes, pollution, sand-mining, coastal development and harassment.
„X Existing protection measures have failed to halt the species decline. Hector's dolphins will only be safe into the future if all threats of commercial and recreational fishing are removed.
Maui's Dolphins Facts
„X Maui's dolphins are classified as Critically Endangered by the Red List of Endangered Species. This means that Maui's dolphins are "facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future".
„X Only 111 Maui's dolphins survive.
„X There are just 25 breeding females left amongst about 60 breeding adults.
„X Females only have one calf every 2-4 years and do not reach breeding age until they are 7-9 years old. These species' potential for recovery is therefore extremely slow.
„X Maui's dolphins prefer shallow waters up to 100m deep and are therefore highly vulnerable to nets.