Hector's dolphin conservation measures (fwd)

From: Pita Admininstrator (pita@whale.wheelock.edu)
Date: Fri Aug 17 2001 - 06:52:22 EDT

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    NEW MEASURES TO PROTECT HECTOR'S DOLPHIN

    The New Zealand Minister of Fisheries, Hon Pete Hodgson, has announced new
    management measures aimed at ensuring the survival of the critically
    endangered North Island population of Hector's dolphin, the country's only
    endemic cetacean.

    All amateur and commercial gill net fishing is to be prohibited within four
    nautical miles of the west coast of the North Island, from Maunganui Bluff
    (north of Dargaville) to Pariokariwa Point (north of New Plymouth),
    encompassing some 400 km of coastline.

    A comprehensive observer programme will be implemented on all trawlers and
    Danish seine vessels fishing in the area closed to set netting.

    "Available scientific information suggests there may be as few as 100 Hector
    's dolphin left," Mr Hodgson said. "Modelling indicates that the population
    may eventually decline to extinction if the bycatch rate is more than one
    dolphin in a five year period. If we are going to save this species from
    extinction I see no realistic alternative to a ban on gill netting in its
    habitat waters."

    The management measures were announced following a one-year public
    consultation process. Mr Hodgson also consulted Conservation Minister
    Sandra Lee on the proposed area closure, as required by the Fisheries Act,
    and received her support.

    "Hector's dolphin is an endemic New Zealand species that is one of the
    world's rarest dolphins," Ms Lee said. "In December 1999 I declared it to be
    a threatened species under the provisions of the New Zealand Marine Mammals
    Protection Act. The North Island population is genetically distinct from the
    South Island populations and is not known to interbreed with them. The North
    Island Hector's dolphin is a taonga, (treasure), and it would be a national
    tragedy if this animal vanished from the coastal waters it has inhabited for
    tens of thousands of years. Protecting it from the threat posed by fishing
    activity is essential if it is to survive."

    Recent advances in genetic profiling have shown that the North Island
    population of Hector's dolphin is genetically distinct from the far more
    abundant population of Hector's dolphin (probably in excess of 5,000
    animals) in the South Island, and has has been genetically distinct for many
    thousands of years. Comparison of DNA from museum specimens of Hector's
    dolphin skeletons in the North Island show a reduction in haplotype
    diversity over the past 100 years consistent with a significant decline in
    population. Records of beachcast dolphins suggest that the animal's range
    has contracted over the past three decades. The North Island population of
    Hector's dolphin was classified as "critically endangered" by IUCN in
    November 2000.

    Three North Island Hector's dolphin have been found dead on beaches this
    year. The Ministry of Fisheries considers that at least two of these deaths
    are likely to have been due to gill netting.

    Mr Hodgson said he realised the ban on set netting would affect the
    livelihoods of some commercial fishers. The Ministry of Fisheries has
    estimated that up to 23 commercial fishers use set nets in the affected
    area, to varying degrees.

    "With the North Island Hector's dolphin population at a critically
    endangered level, I have to adopt a precautionary approach. But I hope the
    affected fishers are able to restructure their operations so that they can
    continue fishing, either with other methods or in other areas."

    Mr Hodgson said that although there was relatively little recreational set
    netting on the open North Island West Coast outside the harbours, amateur
    set nets clearly had the potential to catch Hector's dolphin and could not
    be exempted from the ban.

    Trawling and Danish seining are likely to present a lower risk to Hector's
    dolphin, but more information is needed about the impact of these methods.
    Mr Hodgson said a comprehensive monitoring programme on trawlers and Danish
    seiners would be implemented by industry. The programme would include an
    independent observer on all trawl and Danish seine vessels operating within
    the 4 nautical mile restricted area. The 100 percent observer coverage would
    continue for five years.

    The Ministry of Fisheries will conduct an annual review with stakeholders to
    assess the effectiveness of the observer programme.

    North Island Hector's dolphin is a shallow water species, and animals are
    generally found within four nautical miles of the open exposed coastline. Mr
    Hodgson said at this stage he did not consider it necessary to close the
    area inside harbour entrances on the west coast to gill netting, as Hector's
    dolphin have rarely been sighted in harbour waters. More and better
    information is expected to become available in future on the extent to which
    the dolphins enter harbours. The protection measures will be reviewed if
    necessary in light of this information.

    Mr Hodgson said he greatly appreciated the efforts made by many people to
    find a solution to the Hector's dolphin issue, including researchers,
    environmental organisations, and particularly the Northern Inshore Fishing
    Company, which ran its own consultation process.

    "I hope the management measures we are now putting in place will ensure that
    the North Island Hector's dolphin population is at a much reduced risk from
    the effects of fishing," he said.

    The closed area will take effect in September.

    For further information contact:

    Graeme Speden, Press Secretary, Minister of Fisheries (64) 4 471 9707 or
    (64) 25 270 9055 ; graeme.speden@parliament.govt.nz

    Mike Donoghue, Department of Conservation, (64) 7 866 8262 or (64) 21 870310
    donoghue@ihug.co.nz

    Fraser Folster, Minister of Conservation's Office, (64) 4 471 9821 or (64)
    25 947 795 : fraser.folster@parliament.govt.nz

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