The Māui and Hector’s Threat Management Plan, released today by the Government, makes some promising steps towards protecting the most endangered dolphin species in the world, but is not completely transformational. 

Jessica Desmond, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, says it’s great to see the Government listening to the voices of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who called for better protection on this species and more restrictions on dolphin-killing fishing methods.

“It’s really positive to see the extension to set-net fishing restrictions down the whole of the West Coast of the North Island, some areas where there were previously no restrictions, and that some of these are out to the 12 nautical mile limit. Science tells us that this is the level of protection needed,” she says.

But Desmond says the plan falls short in some areas, and often over-complicates an issue that already has clear solutions. This may leave Hector’s dolphins in a precarious position going forward.

“In several areas the restrictions fall short of the 12 nautical mile limit, this means there will still be risky fishing in Māui dolphin habitat. It also makes it unnecessarily complicated to administer and understand,” she says.

“In the South Island there are limited additional protections for Hector’s dolphins, and crucial subpopulations. This leaves them in the precarious position and the potential for a slow march towards extinction. 

“Powers to add additional regulation if a dolphin is killed sounds impressive, but with only around 63 Maui dolphins left, even one killed is already too many. We can’t take back extinction, once they’re gone, that’s it.

“Cameras on the entire fleet of commercial fishing vessels is an essential step to protecting all marine life in Aotearoa. But as the Government has repeatedly stalled on this, we’ll believe cameras on boats when we see them.”

It remains to be seen if the Government’s announcement today will be enough to satisfy the US, who have been eyeing a ban on New Zealand fish imports because of the lack of protections for these endangered dolphins. The potential cost of such an import ban has been estimated at $200 million. 

New Zealand has the highest proportion of threatened native species in the world. On the world stage, both the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) support full protection from set net and trawl commercial fishing for both Māui and Hector’s dolphins in their entire habitat range.

“All eyes will be on political parties ahead of the election this September, and many New Zealanders are keen to see a stronger commitment to protecting the oceans and all the diverse life that finds a home there,” says Desmond.