Fishing restrictions boosted to protect Māui and Hector’s dolphins

The government is beefing up fishing restrictions in key dolphin habitats as part of a plan to protect endangered Māui and Hector’s dolphins.

Major changes will include extended bans on trawling and set net fishing around much of the South Island and the West Coast of the North Island.

Marine mammal sanctuaries across the West Coast of the North Island and around the Banks Peninsula will be doubled.

The changes, announced today by Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, are part of the dolphin threat management plan, which was publicly consulted on last year.

Commercial and recreational drift netting will be banned in its entirety in all New Zealand waters.

Nash said fishing activities and toxoplasmosis – a disease caused by cat faeces – pose the biggest threats to Hector’s and Māui dolphins.

“The changes will significantly increase fishing restrictions in dolphin habitats, focusing on methods with the highest potential to affect dolphins. However I want to be clear – fishing vessels will be able to keep fishing if they move to different methods. There is new support from government to help them make that transition,” he said.

“The decisions are not taken lightly and I acknowledge there will be questions about some operations. A targeted transitional support package is being established to help and incentivise fishing operators adapt to the new restrictions.”

A targeted support package will include ex gratia payments and free and independent business advice. It will be available to commercial fishers and Licensed Fish Receivers who are most impacted by the new measures, Nash said.

“Together with the new measures to manage non-fishing risks, these give us our best opportunity to protect these iconic dolphins,” Nash said.

There are also proposed changes which include rolling out an “action plan” on toxoplasmosis, and doubling the marine mammal sanctuaries across the West Coast of the North Island and around the Banks Peninsula to more than 37,000km of protected areas.

There were also proposed bans on seabed mining in a whale sanctuary off Kaikōura, and on new mining and seismic surveying permits in the expanded marine mammal sanctuaries.

These changes would not apply to existing permits.

“Seismic surveying and seabed mining are proposed to be prohibited in the five marine mammal protection areas to protect the dolphins from impacts such as noise and sedimentation. Existing exploration and mining permits will be exempted,” Sage said.

Sage said Hector’s dolphins were nationally vulnerable with about 15,000 in New Zealand’s waters. Māui dolphins are critically endangered, with only about 63 left.

“We know New Zealanders care deeply about looking after Māui and Hector’s dolphins. There were more than 15,000 submissions and a 78,000 signature petition on options for improving their protection as part of the Threat Management Plan review,” Sage said.