Special update from dolphin expert Dr Liz Slooten

Dear Team,

Thank you so much for all your hard work on Hector’s and Maui’s dolphinTihei Mauri Ora!
protection over the last couple of years! Without you we would certainly
not have got anywhere near this far.

The government’s decision is a modified version of Option 2 in the Threat
Management Plan. While we had all hoped for Option 3 or something closer
to total protection (the Option 4 that never made it into the plan), this
is a major step forward.

Most conservation groups are responding to the decision with a balanced
message that congratulates government for taking this major step towards
effective protection of our endemic dolphins, while at the same time
indicating that more will need to be done in the near future. Basically,
the new protection measures are an excellent start.

1. The decision acknowledges that this is a nationwide problem that
requires a nationwide solution
2. It also acknowledges that the most effective way to solve the problem
is to avoid overlap between gillnet fisheries and dolphins
3. Hector’s dolphin populations on the South Island east coast are now
much better protected, with a ban on gillnets out to 4 nautical miles
almost throughout this area
4. Hector’s dolphin populations on the South Island south coast are also
much better protected, with a ban on gillnets out to 4 nautical miles
5. Maui’s dolphins are now protected further offshore, to 7 nautical miles
6. Maui’s dolphins are better protected in the harbours, with gillnet bans
in all harbour entrances
7. Government is clearly making a firm commitment to observer programs to
find out more about the number of dolphins caught in areas left

Further protection measures needed in the near future:
1. Hector’s dolphins off Banks Peninsula are still unprotected beyond 4
nautical miles from shore (despite extensive research data showing their
distribution extends to 20 nautical miles)
2. Inside the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary the dolphins are
still vulnerable to gillnetting in the flounder fishing areas at the tops
of the harbours (despite 12 months of research data showing the dolphins
use this area throughout the year)
3. No protection for Maui’s dolphins off Taranaki. The southern boundary
of the protected area has stayed in the same place
4. While the added protection for Maui’s dolphins in harbour entrances is
welcomed, most of the harbour habitat is still left unprotected
5. Protection for West Coast South Island dolphins is still inadequate
(out to 2 nautical miles, about a third of their offshore distribution,
and for only a quarter of the year for commercial fishers)
6. No protection for the Cook Strait area (Tasman Bay, Golden Bay and part
of Marlborough Sounds)
7. The lack of protection in the middle part of the geographic range
(Taranaki, Cook Strait) and low level of protection for the South Island
west coast means there is still a high risk for Maui’s dolphins. It is
unlikely that Maui’s dolphins will make significant recovery until the
southern parts of their distribution (and the harbours) are included in
the protected area. Currently, Maui’s dolphins immediately south of the
protected area are still exposed to very heavy gillnet fishing effort
8. The decision offers very little protection from trawling. How soon this
problem is solved will depend on observer coverage on trawling vessels
working in Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin habitat
9. Observer coverage will be a major challenge for the next few years. The
areas where dolphins are not so well protected (e.g. west coast from
Taranaki south to Jackson Bay, north coast of South  Island from Farewell
Spit to Marlborough Sounds) will need the highest level of gillnet
observer coverage, as will the trawling fleet

Am currently in Santiago for International Whaling Commission meeting.
Will be presenting a paper with a quantitative assessment of the new
protection measures. A bout of food poisoning has slowed me down a bit in
getting the paper ready and getting this to you – apologies for that. In a
nutshell the paper explains that these measures will almost hold the total
population at its current, seriously depleted level (25% of original
population size) with small population increases in some areas and
substantial declines in others. Overall, we would lose another 600 or so
Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins by 2050. The new regulations do not yet meet
national guidelines (recovery within 20 years) or international guidelines
(fishing should not lengthen the time to recovery by more than 10%) for
marine mammal conservation. But they’re a great start.

Thanks again!



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