Friday, September 28, 2007

Protective measures for dolphins upset fishing industry

Possible restrictions on set nets to protect dolphins could "annihilate " the fishing industry in Kaikoura and have devastating social and financial impacts on a lifestyle which has taken 30 years to build, says commercial fisherman Dick Cleall.

Heads nodded in agreement as Mr Cleall stated his view during a public forum at the Memorial Hall where representatives from the Ministry of Fisheries (MFish) and Department of Conservation (DOC) encouraged the 15-strong crowd of tourism representatives and fishermen to forward submissions on options outlined in the hector's dolphin draft threat management plan.

The plan was jointly developed by the two government departments and discussions during the afternoon centred around striking a balance between maintaining a sustainable fishing area while reducing the threat to hector's dolphins.

The plan states set netting is one of the biggest known threats to hector's dolphins and outlines a range of options to manage this. It also wants to place restrictions on some in-shore trawling and crayfishing guidelines due to recorded cases of dolphins becoming entangled through such fishing practices. The proposal outlines non-fishing measures to protect the mammals such as a possible moratorium on hector's dolphin viewing points, education, strict compliance, monitoring and research.

There are five commercial set netters in Kaikoura sustaining Sealord and Ngai Tahu, and Mr Cleall has been in Kaikoura for 30-odd years.

During this time Mr Cleall said set netters had been gradually pushed out of the ocean by the Government and MFish. He said before quota was introduced in 1986 there were about 30 set netters in South Bay alone but the buy-back scheme saw many take the money and move into other business.

This was the first taste the region had of being "weeded" of all set netters and every time another push by the Government came more would have had a "gutsful" and pull out, he said.

Mr Cleall set up his business for his four sons to carry on and it had kept the family together.

Further regulations, which he believed would result in MFish stopping set netting altogether, would potentially strip the income to each of his boys by $30,000 to $40,000 per year.

Socially and economically the eradication of set netting would be devastating as about seven people worked on shore to every one at sea, he said.

A common belief was that set netters fished inshore all of the time, but it was actually about three months of the year. Fish in Kaikoura were migratory so set netters would always target different fish and set netting was the most economical way of fishing as it was selective, he said.

Kaikoura's commercial set netters will lodge one submission between them on the plan and Mr Cleall will also lodge a personal submission, canvassing the social and economic impacts of the proposal.

The Government has already acted towards reducing the threat including a marine mammal sanctuary around Banks Peninsula and a seasonal amateur set-net ban out to four nautical miles from shore between the Waiau and Waitaki Rivers from October 1 to March 3. There is also a requirement for amateur fishers to stay with their nets when fishing between Waiau and Clarence Rivers during the same time period.

Ministry of Fisheries spokesperson Ray Voller said MFish needed to tighten up where and how people could fish so they could tell fishermen exactly where to go.

"At the moment it's not very clear and quite confusing which does not help."

Department of Conservation Nelson/Marlborough technical support officer Andrew Baxter said perfect figures on the hector's dolphin population in Kaikoura could not be calculated due to "the nature of the beast".

The plan contained some information based on an aerial survey carried out a few years back, but there was enough information based on the population from biological studies to know that one hector's dolphin death was one too many. Hector's dolphin are endemic to New Zealand and have a population of around 7270 .

Submissions for the plan close on October 24.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"