Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why Pete Bethune's Not Laughing

What hope do the critically endangered Hector's dolphins have, when illegal fishing occurs in their supposed protected sanctuaries at night?
Pete Bethune and Earthrace NZ recently received info about vessels fishing in a manner very likely to lead to already critically endangered Hector’s dolphins (endemic to the South Island) being killed in fishing nets in the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary. So they undertook covert surveillance by plane, motor boat and kayak, by day and night from 3-13 Jan.2013. They saw and noted numerous vessels fishing, not only in areas like to put the dolphins at grave risk, but also well inside sanctuary boundaries.
The local Hector's population ranges from close inshore including within harbours, to 20 nautical miles (nm) offshore. They are found regularly in waters up to 100m in depth. By comparison, the Sanctuary (which includes both Lyttleton and Akaroa Harbours) only extends out to 12nm, whilst Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) regulations for fisheries currently allows gillnetting to within 4nm of the coast, and to within 2nm for trawlers, taking no account of the depth factor.
Current estimates are that only around 1,000 Hector's remain in this area - between 7-10% of the total population remaining.
Bethune: "Although not in as dire straits as North Island's endemic Maui's dolphin population (a sub-species of Hector's with only an estimated 50 remaining), this population of Hector's is rapidly heading in the same direction towards extinction, due to unsustainable by-catch in fishing nets and a lack of any effective response by the NZ Govt. Our surveillance clearly proves the sanctuary needs to be extended much further offshore, to take into account the depth as well as the distance that Hector's travel, and only fishing methods that don't kill dolphins should be used inside it."
Earthrace has demanded the Dept of Conservation (DOC) and MPI implement a new Hector's and Maui's Threat Management Plan to include:-
+Exclusion areas for gill netters and trawlers immediately introduced in all areas where these species exist in waters up to 100m deep, and up to 20nm from coastline.
+The number of inspectors and fisheries inspections within all marine mammal sanctuaries in NZ, where both species of critically endangered dolphin exist, must be increased.
+Fisheries inspections must also be carried out at night.
It is rarely if ever that observers are placed on board fishing vessels at night, despite previous evidence showing it is highly likely trawling at night does catch dolphins.
Scientists from NIWA and Otago University estimate gillnets kill 23 Hector's dolphins each year off the east coast of the South Island, with a similar number caught in trawl nets.
Earthrace Conservation has passed the surveillance info and names of vessels to MPI, asking them to seize their GPS tracking data, to verify observations of the gill-net vessel and the trawlers fishing illegally within the 4nm exclusion zone with a view to prosecution.
But will anything happen? For the sake of these tiny rare dolphins, something MUST and SOON!
These marine sanctuaries are a joke...but no-one's laughing.

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