A marine animal expert and the Black Cat Cruises boss are concerned a proposal to protect hector’s dolphins across New Zealand leaves the Akaroa population at risk.
The Government’s 40-page threat management plan includes protection measures for the dolphins, which are classified as nationally vulnerable with an estimated population of 15,700.
Proposed commercial and recreational set netting and trawling restrictions run north from Banks Peninsula to Kaikoura, south to Timaru, and offshore up to 20 nautical miles. But the additional protection does not include an area of sea around the south-eastern side of Banks Peninsula. Instead, the only option is to maintain the current restriction of four nautical miles offshore in that stretch.
Otago University zoology professor Liz Slooten said she has been scratching her head over the gap in the proposal.
Said Prof Slooten: “It took the Otago University marine mammal research team two days to make sense of these options and why they’ve put protection in those particular areas. They don’t really spell it out in the document. What they seem to have done is gone to the areas where the most dolphins are being caught right now and chosen to protect them and not the areas where not many dolphins are being caught.
“The problem with that is, if you close the areas to the north and restrict fishing to the south, people are going to shift into that gap. We will have shifted the problem around the map rather than solved it.”
Black Cat Cruises chief executive Paul Milligan said he is disappointed the document has “left out an area where people know there are dolphins.”
A Fisheries New Zealand spokesperson said there is unlikely to be additional displaced recreational set netting given the existing closures in place. However, they did not comment on the commercial activities.
“The proposals are looking to extend the current closures further offshore in areas within Pegasus Bay and the Canterbury Bight. They are based on the best scientific evidence available of the risks to hector’s and maui dolphins, which draws on a range of new information,” the spokesperson said.
The information includes results from aerial surveys of dolphin distribution and abundance, revised population and sub-population estimates, new dolphin sighting information from the public and fisheries observers, updated captures from fisheries observers and information from the Department of Conservation’s necropsy programme
Last month, Black Cat Cruises commissioned a study by Market Economics to determine the value of hector’s dolphins. It found dolphin-related eco-tourism brings almost $25 million into the New Zealand economy each year, with an additional $3 million to $6 million in associated tourism activities. It also found hector’s dolphins sustain up to 476 jobs in the national economy.
Hector’s dolphin numbers are estimated to have decreased by about 74 per cent over the past 30 years.
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research estimates up to 100-150 hector’s and maui dolphins are drowned in set nets every year.
“If you start restricting fishing in areas nearby, it’s going to direct any fishing activity to where they are allowed. If anything, it’s got the potential to increase the fishing activity in that area and therefore increase the likelihood that a dolphin is caught,” Mr Milligan said.
“Market Economics’ study has some weight behind it so we will be putting in a submission based around that.”
Public consultation on the plan closes on August 4.
•To have your say, visit www.fisheries.govt.nz/news-and-resources/consultations/hectors-and-maui-dolphins-threat-management-plan-review/