New Zealanders love and want to protect the precious Maui’s dolphin and yesterday they made their voices heard at a ceremonial funeral at Parliament. The ceremony was a special one and listening to waiata as people delivered 55 symbolic coffins representing the last 55 Maui’s dolphins was moving – moving some even to tears. The event was important because it follows the announcement by Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith that he wouldn’t do what was needed to save them from lethal fishing nets which are driving them to extinction. Maui’s are the world’s smallest and most endangered dolphin and are only found off the West Coast of New Zealand. The Government has finally announced their Threat Management Plan and are proposing to only extend the ban on set nets off the Taranaki coast by 350 kilometres, at a distance of between two and seven nautical miles which this still allows lethal fishing within 75% of their habitat, continuing their risk of extinction.
It was harrowing to realise there were more people at the ceremony than there are Maui’s dolphins alive today. It would be a great tragedy if the children who were there will not have the chance grows up with them in the same way we did. I want future generations to be as lucky as we are to experience this unique and loveable dolphin.
Likewise it can’t be in the fishing industry’s interest to see this dolphin fished to extinction with all the international seafood export and New Zealand brand risk that would entail. Case in point, the Government’s refusal to protect the last remaining Maui’s dolphins has been making negative international headlines since its announcement. The latest response has been a call for an international boycott of New Zealand seafood, by German conservation organisation NABU International. They also say they will challenge the inadequate proposal in the New Zealand High Court.
A huge range of international agencies and New Zealand institutions have rejected the proposed Government measures as inadequate, warning they will not be enough to stop the impending decline of the last 55 Maui’s dolphins. Scientists warn extinction is almost inevitable if just one more human-induced death of a Maui’s dolphin is allowed to occur within the next 10-23 years. The International Whaling Commission, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the 2,000 scientists of the Society for Marine Mammology are all calling for a ban on set nets and trawling in all areas where the dolphins are found, out to the 100m depth contour. We need to listen to the experts.
The Green Party would respond to the scientific and international call to action to protect this dolphin. We would immediately stop all lethal fishing in the Maui’s sanctuary, extend protection measures over their full range and work with the fishing industry towards a sustainable transition. The real passion present in yesterday’s ceremony reaffirmed my hope that we can still save them. The last nail hasn’t been driven into the coffin and we can avoid a real and final funeral for this species. The Maui’s dolphin needs real change in policy and it is clear this will only occur with a change in government.