6 Jul 2012

NZ urged to do more to save Maui's dolphins

10:07 pm on 6 July 2012

A scientific body has urged New Zealand and Mexico to take immediate action to prevent the extinction of small marine mammals that are being killed by gillnets set by the fishing industry.

The International Whaling Commission's scientific committee on Thursday voiced fears for New Zealand's Maui's dolphins and the vaquita, a 1.5-metre porpoise in the Gulf of California.

Maui's dolphins are among the smallest and found only off the North Island of New Zealand. The IWC's committee estimated that New Zealand had just 55 Maui's dolphins left that are at least one year old and that Mexico had no more than 220 vaquitas.

Numbers were declining despite conservation methods.

In a report at an annual meeting in Panama City, the committee voiced "extreme concern" over the future of the vaquita and urged the immediate elimination of gillnets that could entangle them, AFP reports.

In New Zealand, the committee also called for a prompt ban on gillnets and for establishing a safe corridor for Maui's dolphins between North and South islands.

The countries both said they are taking action. Gerard von Bohemen, New Zealand's commissioner, pointed to a recent decision to expand a ban on fishing nets along North Island's western Taranaki coast.

Mexico's commissioner, Lorenzo Rojas Bracho, said his country had cracked down on illegal fishing and a working group in charge of shrimping was considering a net ban from 2013.

Aimee Leslie, the marine turtle and cetacean manager at conservationist group WWF, said the commitments by Mexico and New Zealand were not enough.

"Unless these governments remove all gillnets now they will be responsible for the loss of these animals forever."

Austria's representative Michael Stachowitsch voiced frustration over conservation efforts in Mexico.

"Frankly, it's time for diplomatic niceties and strategies to take a back seat to immediate, concrete action.

"When a bridge collapses someone takes responsibility. When a bank or a corporation goes under, there is shame and someone takes responsibility. How much greater must the responsibility or shame be when a highly developed mammal species is lost forever."

The IWC is known for its annual showdowns over whaling by Japan, Norway and Iceland, but the scientific committee meets separately and is formed by experts.