NZ Threats and conservation measures

Hector’s and Māui dolphins

In 2008, the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries put in place a Hector’s and Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan (TMP) that identifies human induced threats to Hector’s and Māui dolphin populations and outlines strategies to mitigate those threats.6 This plan provides a platform in which to guide research, engagement, management and review processes.

Protection for the endemic Hector’s and Māui dolphins from fishing-related threats is primarily provided by regulations issued under the Fisheries Act 1996. Observer coverage in NZ fisheries varies between fisheries and incidental capture of marine mammals in fishing operations must be reported. These regulations restrict or prohibit the use of set nets (gill nets) or trawl nets in areas where the dolphins are most commonly found, including the west coast of the North Island, areas of the South, East and West coasts of the South Island.

The New Zealand Government has established five Marine Mammal Sanctuaries within New Zealand waters covering over 1000 km of coastline. A study of the oldest of these Sanctuaries – the Banks Peninsula Sanctuary, within which the use of gillnets has been restricted since 1988 – found a significant (5.4%) increase in Hector’s dolphin survival in the area which reduced the decline of this population significantly.7

In 2013, the New Zealand Government announced additional measures to reduce human-induced threats to Māui dolphins off the West Coast of the North Island, such as the retention of existing set (gill) net and trawl restrictions and an extension of the set net fishing prohibition out to seven nautical miles offshore in North Taranaki. These measures balance a range of considerations, including the science available, public submissions, and economic impacts.

There are also monitoring programmes in place to reduce uncertainty and improve information on dolphin interactions with fishing activity. There is mandatory observer coverage on all commercial set net vessels that operate between two and seven nautical miles in the Taranaki region. Observer coverage has been increased annually in the trawl fishery off the West Coast of the North Island, focusing on the offshore area between two and seven nautical miles.

The New Zealand Government also formed a strategic, collaborative advisory group for engaging interested parties in prioritisation and funding of future conservation research on the Māui dolphin (the Māui dolphin Research Advisory Group). The group is facilitated by an independent chairperson and includes representatives from central government agencies, iwi8, regional councils, the fishing industry, the petroleum and mineral industry, environmental organisations, research providers, and international organisations. Meetings began in 2014 and the group agreed to the development of a five-year research plan for the Māui dolphin to allow for a transparent, structured, and strategic planning approach to Māui dolphin research.

A review of the TMP commenced earlier in 2018 and may result in changes to the existing protection measures in the year to come. A range of existing and new information is being considered by the Government, including new information collected under the auspices of the Research Advisory Group and other sources.

Bryde’s whales

A working group was convened in 2012 in response to the ship-strike risk to Bryde's whales in the Hauraki Gulf.9 In 2013, the shipping industry in the Hauraki Gulf adopted the 'Hauraki Gulf Transit Protocol for Commercial Shipping' to mitigate ship-strike risk to Bryde's whales.10 There are currently no dedicated shipping lanes in the Gulf and given the broad distribution of whales throughout the region, they are unlikely to reduce the mortality risk to the whales. As an outreach and education tool for mariners, ships transiting through the Gulf in January - February 2013 and 2014 received report cards produced by SBNMS-NOAA. No ship-strikes have been reported (including from beach cast animals) in the last four years, suggesting that the voluntary protocol has been successful. The Department of Conservation will continue to support necropsies on whales where ship-strike is suspected and ensure the reporting of ship-strike mortality to the IWC database.

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There are three species under threat in New Zealands waters and each have measures in place to mitigate those threats