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Progress for our campaign as New Zealand takes action to protect dolphins from fishing nets

Following our long-running campaign to save endangered Hector’s dolphins, the New Zealand government has announced action … but will it be enough?

Hector’s dolphins live only around New Zealand and their safety and survival is at risk from dying in fishing nets as ‘bycatch’. We’ve been campaigning hard to get the most dangerous nets banned from the places where the dolphins live.

The New Zealand government’s Ministry for Primary Industries is consulting the public, and NGOs like Whale and Dolphin Conservation, on two proposals. If implemented, these measures will help government and fishers understand and reduce the entanglement of Hector’s dolphins in fishing gear.

 

A New Zealand dolphin trapped in a net

Your donation will help us fight to keep these dolphins safe from nets.

The first consultation is called: Wider rollout of on-board cameras. We fully support the rollout of cameras on fishing boats to monitor dolphin entanglement in fishing gear. This will help increase transparency and trust in the fishing industry, improve our knowledge of what’s happening at sea and drive positive on-the-water behavioural change. However, we need to make sure that these cameras are implemented at the same time as measures are put in place to stop dolphins getting entangled in nets. There is no reason to delay preventative action while monitoring data is collected.

With that in mind, we will also be responding to a second consultation: Further consultation on fisheries measures to protect Hector’s dolphins in the South Island. We welcome this proposal for the introduction of new measures to prevent bycatch of South Island Hector’s dolphins.

We have been campaigning for the removal of gillnet and trawl fisheries from all waters less than 100 metres deep as this is the only thing that will prevent entanglements and stop the dolphins dying. This is also the recommendation of the IUCN, which is the international organisation that lists Endangered Species and advises governments on how best to protect them.

A group of New Zealand dolphins leaping
A group of Hector's dolphins leaping. © Rob Pine

We agree that there is a need for further fishing-related measures and that all Hector’s dolphin populations should be protected from activity that threatens their survival. But we shouldn’t just be thinking about conservation of populations – we also need action to protect individual dolphins from harm. Individual dolphins trapped in nets can suffer a wide range of injuries before suffocating when they can't reach the surface to breathe. Even dolphins who survive and escape can endure injury, trauma and stress.

So whilst we agree that targets are required to limit fishing-related dolphin deaths, the overall aim should be to reduce bycatch to zero to prevent suffering. In fact, this is already the target set by the government in Te Mana o te Taiao/Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy and we need action to achieve this target now.

The New Zealand government is proposing to develop a Bycatch Reduction Plan, which should apply all around the South Island. Given the small size of the local populations, the only practical, effective solution is to use dolphin-safe fishing methods in all of the Hector’s dolphins’ habitat.

In short, the New Zealand government’s proposals are necessary but they do not yet go far enough to stop these beautiful, unique little dolphins suffering and dying in fishing nets and ensure that their populations recover.

 

The deadline for consultation responses to both consultations is Monday 6th December.

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