Rare dolphins die despite curbs on set nets

Two endangered Hector’s dolphins have washed up dead on South Island beaches, weeks after the Government introduced measures to stop the rare dolphins being accidentally killed in recreational set nets.

One of the dolphins, washed up on a Westland beach, had visible set-net markings on its face. The other, discovered at a remote Southland beach, was in an advanced state of decay and it is not yet known how it died. Massey University scientists are examining both.

Last month, Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said all recreational fishermen would have to stay with their nets in waters off north Canterbury and western Southland, including Te Waewae Bay, where the decaying dolphin was found.

At the time, the interim measures were slammed by conservation groups as “pitiful”. Forest and Bird Protection Society South Island coordinator Eugenie Sage said the measures should at least cover the West Coast and Southland.

Yesterday, she said the death in a recreational set net at Gillespie’s Beach, near Fox Glacier, highlighted the inadequacy of the interim measures.

“It’s distressing that Forest & Bird was correct in predicting that more dolphins would die this summer because of the Government’s failure to end or restrict set-netting, a major threat to this endangered species.”.

New Zealand should follow the lead of Australia, Britain and other countries in banning or severely restricting set-net use, she said.

Figures issued by Mr Anderton’s office show four fisheries officers and two honorary officers have been enforcing the set-net regulations in both areas.

Since they were introduced, one fisherman in Southland had been spoken to, and about a dozen around Kaikoura had been warned.

People face fines of up to $100,000 if caught leaving nets unattended.

Mr Anderton said the interim measure was in its early stages, but if it did not work, a total set-net ban could be imposed.

The Conservation Department and the Fisheries Ministry are working on a draft management plan, due later this year, to better protect the rare dolphin.

Since September 12 Hector’s dolphins have been found dead on beaches. They included three critically endangered Maui dolphins, a smaller sub-species of the Hector’s dolphin, of which there are about 100 left in the world.

Source: Dominion Post (New Zealand)