At the suggestion of Cr Jenni Vernon, the committee on Wednesday supported the establishment of a marine mammal sanctuary off the coast between Northland and Taranaki to help the Maui’s dolphin.
The committee noted that in a marine mammal sanctuary there would be no restrictions on fishing that did not threaten Maui's dolphin. All line fishing would be unaffected, as would spear fishing, potting, scoop netting and drag netting. However, there could be a range of restrictions on set nets, trawling and drift nets. There is already a ban on amateur set net fishing in this area.
The committee also instructed council staff to look further at measures Environment Waikato could take to protect the mammals.
The Maui’s dolphin, a unique species estimated to have only about 111 individuals left, is the world’s rarest marine dolphin. This small population lives largely in shallow waters between Dargaville and north Taranaki.
Risks to the dolphin include entanglement in nets, being hit by boats and pollution. In a briefing to the committee, officials from the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries discussed a draft Threat Management Plan which is out for consultation, with a view to introducing new measures later this year to protect Maui’s and South Island Hector’s dolphins.
It is proposed that a marine mammal sanctuary be established between Northland and New Plymouth out to the 12-nautical mile mark. Other options being considered include new regulations under fisheries legislation.
Ministry of Fisheries analyst Richard Fanselow told the committee that trawling, set nets and drift nets were threats to the dolphin, and that an extensive set net ban – including the mouth of the Manukau Harbour – had been put in place between Northland and Taranaki in 2003.
Officials were considering what extra measures could be taken to further ease the impact of netting and trawling on the dolphins, Mr Fanselow said. Environment Waikato staff said they needed to examine the management proposals more closely before making a detailed submission. However, the committee did emphasise the need for greater publicity about the plight of the dolphins.