Fishing industry calls on government to recognize toxoplasmosis as main threat to Māui and Hector’s dolphins
Iain McGregor / Stuff
Māui dolphins are the world’s rarest marine mammal and are found in coastal waters off the west coast of the North Island.
The commercial fishing industry is calling on the government to stop treating it as the leading cause of death for Māui and Hector’s dolphins and instead focus on cat droppings.
Industry lobby group New Zealand Seafood wants the government to recognize toxoplasmosis, a parasite transmitted by cat poop, as the main threat to dolphins.
He slammed the government for its “lack of action” following the New Zealand Nature Conservation Authority’s (NZCA) advisory in November that failure to address the threat of toxoplasmosis would probably lead to the extinction of the Hector and Māui dolphins.
An estimated 54 Māui dolphins inhabit the coastal waters off the west coast of the North Island, while Hector’s dolphins, found in the coastal waters of the South Island, number just under 15,000.
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In its advice to Conservation Minister Kiri Allan and Oceans and Fisheries Minister David Parker, the NZCA said it was surprised by statistics from a report on toxoplasmosis that showed dolphin deaths from the parasite exceeded fishing deaths by far.
He said the combined deaths from commercial fixed nets and coastal trawls for Māui dolphins were 0.12 per year, while for Hector’s dolphins they were 58 per year.
By comparison, toxoplasmosis-related deaths were 1.9 per year for Māui dolphins and 334 for Hector.
He recommended that a cat control program be “socialized with the general public” so that it can be launched by 2025.
He also recommended that ministers modify the five-year Hector and Maui dolphin research plan by shortening timelines and making it reflect more immediate goals.
Seafood New Zealand chief executive Jeremy Helson said the government’s apparent lack of action in response to the advice was concerning.
“After closing other areas to fishing in 2020, the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries has continued to consult on closing valuable fishing areas on the assumption that this will save dolphins, when they are well aware that banning fishing is not the solution.”
Helson said thousands of hectares of ocean have already been closed to fishing and more closures are being considered.
“These closures have had a devastating effect on fishers, many of whom have lost their livelihoods. It is unacceptable that ministers continue to treat fishing as the main risk to dolphins when their own view is that toxoplasmosis is the leading cause of death for Māui’s and Hector’s dolphins.
Ministers Kiri Allan and David Parker were approached for comment.
Keith Mawson, owner of New Plymouth fish processor and retailer Egmont Seafoods, said the fishery had been an “easy target” in the fight to save Maui’s dolphins from extinction.
“They were very quick to close down productive fishing grounds for regional fishermen knowing there was a problem around toxoplasmosis.”
In 2020, the net ban set off the west coast of the North Island was extended to 12 nautical miles offshore, down from seven previously.
Since 2012, fishing vessels operating out of Port Taranaki have been carrying government-funded observers who have yet to sight a Māui dolphin.
Mawson said that while commercial fishing may have been the main threat to dolphins 30 years ago, that was no longer the case.
“If toxoplasmosis is the major problem and the threat of dolphin fishing has been mitigated, maybe they should allow some commercial fishing in the areas they have closed.
“Especially in areas where there wasn’t a lot of certainty around the dolphin evidence.”