South misses out on dolphin protection

Otago and Southland have lost out in a Government plan to protect vulnerable dolphin species, scientists and conservation groups say.

Yesterday, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash released their proposal to save Maui and Hector's dolphins.

It presents several options for restricting set netting and trawling around the country.

There are extensive options on the West Coast of the North Island, where Maui dolphins are based. There are estimated to be only 63 of the critically-endangered species left.

For their southern counterparts the Hector's dolphin, of which there are about 15,000, there are options for protection mainly around the Canterbury, Marlborough and Tasman districts.

An estimated 44 were killed annually by set netting and 14 by inshore trawling.

There are no proposed restrictions in Otago and the only area for Southland is at Te Waewae Bay, in Western Southland.

There are colonies of Hector's dolphins between Dunedin and Oamaru and in the Catlins.

University of Otago zoology professor Liz Slooten said the two regions lost out in the new proposal.

"In Otago there are only 42 dolphins. The risk to that population is much greater because it's such a tiny population.

"We've seen over the last few decades, one after the other, these populations fragmenting.''

Forest and Bird marine advocate Anton van Helden said it was disappointed there were no new restrictions to trawling or set-netting south of Dunedin.

The proposals also included plans to deal with other threats to the dolphins, such as the disease toxoplasmosis, as well as seismic impacts and seabed mining.

There will now be public consultation. Submissions close on August 4.


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