Friday, March 21, 2008

New Zealand: Protecting rare dolphin species is the next step!

The New Zealand government issued fresh calls Wednesday for the banning of certain types of trawler nets, following the deaths last December of 22 dolphins that were killed in the nets. The government wants to prohibit use of the nets within the Maui’s dolphin’s habitat, which includes the area along the western coast of New Zealand’s north island.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Maui's dolphins are in dire need of protection from set nets and trawler nets if they are to survive. Officials estimate the animals are on the brink of extinction, numbering only 111 and found only along the north island’s west coast. Another endangered New Zealand species, the Hector's dolphin, have declined in number from an estimated 29,000 in the 1970s to 7,000 today.

Set nets are typically used by recreational fishers near the coastline, whereas the large trawl nets are used by commercial fishing further out to sea to catch large schools of fish.Last Tuesday, the government released photographs of 22 common dolphins killed in trawler nets off the north island’s west coast last December.

WWF’s executive director, Chris Howe, said the photos were proof that current fishing controls are failing to protect endangered dolphins, and that the fishing industry cannot be trusted to follow the voluntary code of practice that currently protects the species.

The government-imposed code was established to curtail the accidental capture of dolphins during trawl fishing.Howe said that while many fishing boats obey the voluntary code of practice, it only takes one or two who do not to wipe out the endangered species."All fishing with set nets and trawl nets should be banned throughout the range of Hector's and Maui's dolphins," Howe told The Associated Press.

"That's the only way to ensure a slow-breeding, rare species can recover," he said.Steve Chadwick, New Zealand’s Conservation Minister, said he was "not surprised" that conservation groups are calling for the nets’ prohibition."We'll have to consider how realistic that is while we also have sustainable fishing and how we will manage protection of those endangered species," he told the AP.

Owen Symmans, chief executive of the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council, said the "accidental capture" of 22 dolphins was regrettable."Nobody wants to catch dolphins, common or otherwise, and fishermen ... feel gutted about this sort of thing," he said. "It's the last thing that they want in their nets," adding that trawlers leave the area "as soon as dolphin are seen," and that the industry is resolved to trying to avoid such events.

As part of its response to conservation groups' demands, the government is due to release options for further ways to protect the dolphins. In a letter delivered Wednesday, 214 international environmental and animal protection bodies urged New Zealand to give "full protection" to the endangered Hector's and Maui's dolphins to prevent their extinction.

"Maui's dolphins, the world's smallest dolphin, are one of the rarest animals on earth and Hector's dolphins are almost as scarce as tigers," Barbara Mass, Chief Executive of Care for the Wild International, wrote in the letter.Conservationists have already cautioned that even the best of the proposals will give the dolphins only a 50-50 chance of recovering to their original numbers by 2050.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"