A long-awaited threat management plan for Maui's dolphins is to be announced next month - but one MP has questioned whether the Government is going far enough to protect the critically endangered species.
As Conservation Minister Nick Smith and Green MP Gareth Hughes faced off yesterday in Parliament, new research presented to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) scientific committee claimed more than 80 per cent of the dolphin's habitat lay exposed to gill netting and trawling fishing methods.
The small Maui's dolphin, a subspecies of Hector's dolphins found only in shallow waters off the North Island's west coast, has only 55 adults remaining.
Experts believe the dolphin will disappear by 2030 unless urgent action is taken but there is disagreement over the best way to save them.
The IWC has recommended banning set nets and trawl fishing to a depth of 100 metres between Maunganui Bluff near Dargaville and Hawera in Taranaki, but Dr Smith yesterday said his scientific advice favoured a ban on set netting for two nautical miles (3.7km) off the coast.
Dr Smith acknowledged Maui's dolphins were one of New Zealand's special endemic species and that their numbers were "worryingly low".
He expected to be in a position to announce a finalised threat management plan for the species next month, eight months after submissions closed.
Mr Hughes said the plan was "hugely overdue", and the Government should listen to international scientists.
"The Government isn't giving this species a chance at survival - and I believe they are acting as an accessory to the dolphins' extinction."
Dr Barbara Maas, head of international species conservation for the environmental group NABU International, this week criticised the draft plan in a briefing to the IWC's scientific committee meeting in South Korea, saying it failed in several key areas.
She said the plan did not include range-wide protection among its proposed management options, provide quantitative information on their expected conservation effectiveness, or give a scientific rationale for the chosen options.
"There have been reports on fishing, and sand mining, and seismic testing, but what's missing is for someone to put it all together and state that this is an indefensible and irrational assault on a tiny, remnant population, that is declining quickly and is about to reach the point of no return."