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At risk from nets . . . A Hector's dolphin. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

by Chris Tobin

The Government is failing to implement controls to protect the Hector’s dolphin population off the coast of Timaru, Christine Rose, of World Animal Protection, says.

On Friday, MPI said a Hector’s dolphin was killed in a trawl fishing net off Timaru, and three others in trawl nets off Banks Peninsula, during December.

“The Government needs to extend the areas of protection and make it proper protection against trawling and set nets,” Ms Rose said.

Following MPI’s announcement, Fisheries NZ said it had received two reports from commercial fishers of Hector’s dolphins being caught during trawl fishing off the east coast of the South Island this summer.

Manager inshore fisheries Steve Halley said it was “good” to see the fishers reported the deaths so quickly.

“Any captures of these dolphins is extremely disappointing. Hector’s dolphins are nationally endangered taonga and we’re interested to find out as much as we can about these captures so we can work with the industry to avoid them occurring.

“Prompt reporting by fishers ensures the best opportunity to gather details about these incidents, and in this case the commercial fishers reported the captures immediately which enabled recovery of three dolphins for necropsy.”

Ms Rose said few trawlers had cameras recording what happened while they were fishing, as happened in other parts of the world, and she believed there was “unreported, dumped dolphin kill” occurring.

“There is footage of dolphins being illegally dumped after cameras were put on six fishing boats in Timaru during a trial in 2012.”

An independent review looked into the trial and found unreported dolphin by-catch and undeclared fish dumping, which led to calls for a systematic installation of cameras on all boats which was supported by National but not by Labour and New Zealand First, as well as a fisheries review.

“The problem since then has been ongoing. All these years later very few fishing boats have them [cameras].”

She said the Hector’s dolphin population off the South Canterbury coast had been endangered for some time and continued to decline.

The population was categorised as part of the East Coast-Banks Peninsula hotspot.

“But it’s at the tail, and so figures for the higher concentration and protection around Banks Peninsula disguise the relative scarcity of dolphins around Timaru.

“There’s evidence in research that shows in Timaru the dolphins go further than 20 nautical miles off shore, but are only protected out to two nautical miles.

“In 2010 research from Slooten and Dawson indicated around 597 dolphins around Timaru.”

Forest & Bird has also criticised the deaths of the four Hector’s dolphins in December.

“These tragic deaths show there is a major problem in our fisheries, and raises serious questions over the industry’s dismal record of killing threatened native species,” Karen Baird, ForestBird’s ocean advocate, said.

“These deaths occurred in the same approximate area a pod of Hector’s was killed in a set net last year.

“These four dolphins were correctly reported by the skippers, but the fact is MPI have no idea what is being pulled up in the nets of hundreds of boats all around our coastline. “Without observers or cameras on most of these boats, we have no idea how many dolphins are killed every year, and no ability to protect them.”

The Department of Conservation (Doc) has a Hector’s and Maui dolphin incident database, which records the date, location and cause of deaths.

“We also encourage the public to report beachcast dolphins as soon as possible. The earlier we can examine them, the better information we have to build a picture of the risks posed to these marine mammals,” Doc manager marine species and threats Ian Angus said.

Doc and Fisheries NZ are reviewing the Hector’s and Maui dolphin threat management plan which will be open to public consultation this year.