In June, Fisheries New Zealand and the Department of Conservation announced decisions on a revised Hector’s and Māui dolphins Threat Management Plan.
Hector’s and Māui dolphins are among the world’s rarest dolphins.
They face a range of human-induced threats, including fishing, seismic surveying and the disease toxoplasmosis.
As a result of these decisions, on 1 October 2020, new fisheries measures took effect restricting commercial and recreational set-net and commercial trawl fishing off the west coast of the North Island, and commercial and recreational set-net fishing off the north, south and east coasts of the South Island. In addition, drift netting will be prohibited in all New Zealand waters.
The Department of Conservation (DoC) are putting in place measures to manage non-fisheries risks, including rolling out an action plan aimed at combatting the parasitic disease ‘toxoplasmosis’, which is known to affect Hector’s and Māui dolphins. Information on the plan can be found on the DoC website: www.doc.govt.nz
With an estimated population of just 63 individuals of one year or older, the Māui dolphin is classified as Nationally Critical and is only found off the west coast North Island. The Hector’s dolphin is classified as Nationally Vulnerable, with a population of about 15,000, distributed primarily around the South Island coastline.
The greatest fisheries risk to these dolphins is set-netting, which is why the Government is extending and creating new areas that will prohibit the use of commercial and recreational set-nets in both the North and South Islands.
While the new measures primarily focus on areas further offshore, there are also restrictions on set-nets in some estuaries and inlets in the lower North Island and top of the South Island.
These areas of high tidal flow or current that are next to the offshore dolphin habitat are also important to manage, as evidence shows that nets may be lost and pose a risk to the dolphins. More information on the new measures can be found here: www.fisheries.govt.nz/dolphintmp
The Fisheries (Hector’s and Māui Dolphin) Regulations 2020 have now been published, and can be found at www.legislation.govt.nz. Type ‘Hector’s and Māui Dolphin’ into the search bar to take a look at the specific measures for each area.
Regional descriptions of the new restrictions, and maps of the areas for recreational fishing, are available on the MPI Fisheries website: www.fisheries.govt.nz/travel-recreation/fishing/fishing-rules and on the free NZ Fishing rules app
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The new set-net restrictions in the South Island further reduce the fisheries risk posed to Hector’s dolphins. In response to public feedback, further consultation on commercial and recreational set-net closures between the north and south of Banks Peninsula is intended.
Consultation on alternative approaches to managing the risk from fishing in the South Island, beyond the use of area closures, will also be undertaken. This would include exploring the development of a more collaborative framework with the fishing industry to achieve greater reductions in dolphin captures. Increased monitoring through the use of Crown-owned cameras on commercial set-net and trawl vessels across the South Island Hector’s dolphin habitat is also being considered.
Before any formal consultation, Fisheries New Zealand will be seeking input and participation from iwi, as well as having discussions with stakeholders, to inform the development of any further proposed measures. More information can be found at www.fisheries.govt.nz/dolphintmp