IWC calls on NZ to do more for dolphins

Liz Slooten
Liz Slooten
The New Zealand Government should take immediate actions to eliminate bycatch of Maui dolphins, the International Whaling Commission scientific committee has recommended.

The calls come after University of Otago Assoc Prof Liz Slooten presented a report to the committee in Slovenia last month critical of the Government's measures to protect the endangered dolphins.

It was the third year in a row that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientific committee had discussed the need to better protect the critically endangered Maui's dolphin.

In its report released this week, the committee emphasised the New Zealand Government's measures ''fell significantly short of those previously recommended'' by the IWC last year.

''The committee reiterates its extreme concern about the continued decline of such a small population, as the human-induced death of even one dolphin would increase the extinction risk for this subspecies.''

Rather than seeking further scientific evidence, it reiterated the Government needed to take immediate action to eliminate bycatch of the dolphins.

The committee recommended extending the area protecting the dolphins to 20 nautical miles off-shore, including harbours, and banning both gill and trawl nets in that area.

Prof Slooten said, via email from Egypt where she is working, she could tell the IWC was losing patience from the fact it had asked New Zealand to set specific targets and timelines for protection, and had asked the Government to report back each year until the problem has been solved.

As the IWC pointed out, it was perfectly clear what the problem was, she said. Both gill and trawl nets were known to kill dolphins and with a population of only 55 the country could not afford to kill another one.

''We simply need to have the political will to solve it.

''I expect Labour and Greens to commit to implementing the IWC recommendations. Then, hopefully, something might happen after the election.''

The committee's recommendations would go to the IWC for consideration in September.

WWF-NZ marine species advocate Milena Palka said if New Zealand was to continue to have credible standing at the IWC when it called for protection of whales then it needed to listen to it on Maui's dolphins as well.

''The world is watching us; we need to do the right thing and save these dolphins.''

Conservation Minister Nick Smith said on Radio New Zealand this week

he did not accept that not enough was being done.

''Set-netting was the biggest risk; we've banned it where the Maui's dolphin exists and I simply challenge the International Whaling Commission and others ... show us the Maui.''

Green Party oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes said the Green Party would comply with the IWC's recommendations.

''Saving the Maui's is about protecting the world's smallest dolphin, but it's also about protecting our national brand and exports,'' Mr Hughes said.

Labour's Conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said there were growing calls for an international boycott on buying New Zealand fish because fishing practices threatened the future of Maui's dolphins.

She said Labour supported putting the IWC recommendation in place.

''That means the fishing industry should also be supported to transition to sustainable fishing practices, rather than just being left in the lurch.''

Fisheries Inshore New Zealand chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson said the industry was focused on remedies that would work in the real world.

Restrictions imposed on fishing in 2003, and extended in 2008, 2012 and 2013, protected the dolphins from accidental capture.

''There have been no confirmed mortalities of Maui's attributed to fishing since 2003. We now need to address other issues placing these animals at risk.''

- rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz