The government is using uncertain science to distract the public from unsustainable bycatch in New Zealand’s fisheries, says an environmental advocacy group dedicated to Māui and Hector’s dolphins.
Māui and Hector’s Dolphin Defenders NZ Inc, is questioning the Government’s motives and its methods, after the release last week of new abundance estimates for Hector’s dolphins that show “an unrealistic increase in the population”.
“After a week where the media spotlight has been on the thousands of seabirds, marine mammals and other species killed as fisheries bycatch, it’s no coincidence that the Government has pulled out these questionable estimates that claim ‘it’s all good news for Hector’s dolphins’, says Māui & Hector’s Dolphin Defenders Chair Christine Rose. “This is a blatant attempt to distract from the widespread environmental carnage occurring every year, in New Zealand’s waters”.
“There are unresolved problems with the McKenzie and Clement report” says Mrs Rose. “The survey completely missed dolphins present in some areas, and probably counted dolphins elsewhere, at least twice”.
Dolphin Consultant Gemma McGrath explains, “Just three dolphins were sighted in Golden Bay over winter. And from this one group, there is supposed to be over 200 dolphins in Golden Bay alone, which locals know is absolutely ridiculous”. “The survey effort was great at reinforcing offshore distribution and how most of their range continues to be unprotected. However for areas of low density the approach is completely unreliable. It’s dangerous to overestimate such critically endangered subpopulations.”
Three different groups of peer reviewers, including the IWC have all found the same problems. The IWC is expecting the NZ government to conduct a workshop to resolve the uncertainties with the methodology. “Without some of the computational extrapolation of figures in the report, it seems Hector’s dolphin numbers are lower, and the population faces more risk, not less” says Ms McGrath.
A report released by Dragonfly Data Science last week revealed 2,230 seabirds, 390 fur seals, 80 other dolphins and at least 10 sea lions were killed in fishing nets in the 2013-2014 commercial fishing year. The Government has also been under ongoing pressure in light of under-reporting of bycatch including Māui and Hector’s dolphins, dumping of non-target species and serious lack of observers on fishing vessels in dolphin habitat.
“Until those uncertainties are resolved, we should continue to focus on the state of our oceans, and the real and present danger from set and trawl nets to Māui and Hector’s dolphins, seabirds and other marine mammals”.
“This politically expedient use of uncertain science should not blind us to the reality that fishing impacts are unsustainable for many marine species, and Māui and Hector’s dolphins in particular”.
“The Government should face up to its responsibilities to address by-catch and install 100% observer coverage in Māui dolphin range, as promised in 2012, and ramp up observer coverage elsewhere. They also should make resolving the problems with these latest dolphin estimates a priority”