Dolphin protection ban eased

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A fishing ban brought in to protect an endangered dolphin species is being eased.

In 2008, a general ban on using set nets at the top of the South Island's east coast was introduced to protect Hector's dolphins, which can get entangled in the nets and drown.

The ban was lifted for commercial fishers taking butterfish in the area in March, and Aquaculture Minister Phil Heatley then sought further advice on whether the same exemption should apply to amateur fishers.

In a decision released today, Mr Heatley lifted the ban for amateur fishers in a specific area, despite having ongoing concerns about the risk to dolphins.

"This risk is, however, balanced against that the size of the defined area is small relative to Hector's dolphins' total known range, and the remainder of this range is protected by measures designed to mitigate risk of Hector's dolphin mortality from fishing-related threats."

The defined area extends 200 metres out to sea from Cape Jackson to Rarangi in the eastern Marlborough Sounds.

Mr Heatley said the decision did not indicate that other inshore areas within the area could be reopened to fishing.

"While I consider the risk of fishing-related mortality using set nets in this small defined area acceptable, the cumulative increase in risk if multiple areas were to be reopened to amateur set net fishing could result in an unacceptable effect on Hector's dolphins."

The minister also imposed a requirement for the fishers using set nets to stay with their net at all times while it was set.

The changes come into force in May.

- APNZ

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