Fish and chips a threat to endangered dolphins

Steve Dawson.
Steve Dawson.
Commercial gill nets used to catch fish for New Zealanders' fish and chips are one of the biggest threats to Hector's and Maui's dolphins, University of Otago marine scientist Steve Dawson says.

Yesterday he warned the 1200 people attending the 20th Biennial Biology of Marine Mammal Conference to check what fish they were offered when ordering fish and chips in New Zealand and avoid elephant fish, school shark and rig, recommending they ''make another choice''.

In a keynote address, titled A flagship of New Zealand Conservation if Foundering, Prof Dawson said while it had been shown the Banks Peninsula marine mammal sanctuary, which excluded gill netting from Hector's habitat, had enabled significant improvements in the dolphins' survival rates, numbers were still declining in key areas around the country.

''The recovery of the population is very slow.''

The most at-risk was the population of 55 Maui's dolphins on the North Island west coast which included only 12 to 15 breeding females.

''If that doesn't fill you with dread, I don't know what will.''

In New Zealand, there was a strong anti-science culture where it was seen as of no special merit, so as a result there was a disconnect between science and management.

Biologists saw the information they presented as being of a non-negotiable quality.

It was important for scientists to put robust studies together as when management measures were put in place designed to address a problem it was assumed it would fix the problem.

''Unless we go out there, no-one will do that. If we sit on our hands, populations desperately threatened will slip quietly out the door.''

Scientists would face challenges including that of a government such as the National Government which had a growth agenda often directly in opposition to conservation.

Discerning takeaways

I have never heard of rig, but know that Elephant fish has a big hooter, er, trunk. The elephant in the room remains: is dolphin meat in some 'fish' and chips?

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