Campaigners convinced New Zealand's set-net fishing restrictions are a death sentence for the Maui's dolphin have laid cardboard coffins and fishing nets full of plastic junk outside Parliament.

A "funeral procession" for the endangered species, held in Wellington yesterday, ended in an emotional gathering on the steps of Parliament.

Conservation groups have recently hit out at the Government for what they believe are inadequate protection measures for Maui's dolphins.

It is understood there are fewer than 50 of the dolphins left.


The protest, organised by the Maui's and Hector's Education/Action group and the Berlin-based Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, followed a move last month by Conservation Minister Nick Smith to extend restrictions on the use of set nets in North Island waters.

Dr Smith's decision was slammed by conservation groups, who said the extension was too small to guarantee the survival of the Maui's dolphin species.

Action group chairwoman Christine Rose said the protest showed how angry people were about the Government's attitude towards the world's rarest, smallest and loveliest marine dolphin.

"We're angry, but there is hope. We know based on the best scientific evidence that if we remove those human-induced threats from the Maui's habitat, that they can recover to half their 1970 population by 2030. They can recover," Ms Rose said.

Any set-net fishing restrictions around New Zealand also have a large impact on the local fishers.

Set nets will now be banned up to 13km offshore between Pariokariwa Pt and the Waiwhakaiho River in Taranaki. This is a 350sq km increase to an area - which runs along the west coast of the North Island from Maunganui Bluff, near Dargaville - already under net restrictions.

The Ministry for Primary Industries estimated the measure would cost New Plymouth fishers $81,000 each year.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson, who was among a group of politicians which met the protest march outside Parliament, said economic impacts of fishing restrictions needed to be set aside when making conservation decisions about Maui's dolphins.

"This has to be a contest of responsibility where conservation wins."