The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is calling on the New Zealand Government to keep fishing nets out of its waters to help the critically endangered Maui's dolphin.

The dolphins, as well as Mexico's endangered vaquita porpoise, were a focus of talks today between countries gathered in Panama City for the commission's annual meeting.

Governments urged Mexico and New Zealand to take all possible measures immediately to save the animals from extinction.

Austria's delegate at the meeting, Michael Stachowitsch said it was time for diplomatic niceties and step-wise strategies to take a back seat to immediate, concrete action with no compromise.


There are believed to be fewer than 200 vaquitas left, and only 55 remaining Maui's dolphins over a year old.

The IWC Scientific Committee's report said both animals were severely threatened by accidental bycatch in gillnet fisheries.

It said a total ban on the use of gillnets in the entire ranges of both populations is needed to secure their survival.

The report said as well as gillnets, New Zealand needed to ban trawl nets throughout the whole habitat of Maui's dolphin - in the shallow waters surrounding the North Island.

Last week the government announced a ban on fishing nets along the Taranaki coastline, but the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said those measures were not good enough to save the animals from extinction.

WWF's marine turtle and cetacean manager Aimee Leslie said advances in technology meant that fishermen and Maui's dolphins could safely share New Zealand's waters.

"We urge the government to deploy alternative fishing gear that is dolphin-friendly and keep all gillnets and trawl nets out of Maui's habitat,'' Ms Leslie said.