A proposed set net ban for all west coast harbours from Maunganui Bluff to New Plymouth drew 200 people to a meeting at the Kawhia Community Hall on Friday afternoon.
The proposal is part of the five-yearly review of the Hector's and Maui dolphin Threat Management Plan due to be updated in 2021.
Local residents Boy Davis and Alan Rubay arranged Friday's meeting, because a series of publication consultations by the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries had not included Kawhia.
The organisations are asking for the public's feedback on the proposed options for managing human-induced threats to the dolphins.
The majority of those present said they had never seen dolphins in the Kawhia Harbour so putting the set net restriction in place would not beneficial and negatively impact the community.
Mr Davis said this meeting was a chance for locals to raise any issues they have with the proposal.
"I called for this meeting because I was very concerned. I would be quite upset if set net fishing was closed off in the harbour. This isn't a witch hunt and I am all for helping the dolphins, but I've never seen them come into the harbour before, so it would be disappointing if this were to happen.
"We have quite a few people go out and fish here to feed their families and this would really affect them," he said.
Kawhia resident and campaigner for the protection of Maui dolphins for many years, Davis Apiti, said it was the set net fishing outside of the harbour which is affecting the mammals.
"Fix the issues going on outside of the harbour before you come in and take away our livelihood," he said.
Tom Moke went on to ask what evidence showed the current set netting rules outside the harbour wasn't already working.
"I don't want Kawhia to be caught in a situation which isn't justified, and I want to make sure Maori customary rights won't be impinged. I'm really feeling for the recreational and commercial fishermen who would be affected by this," he said.
The attendees expressed frustration with the lack of data specifying set netting in the Kawhia Harbour would be a risk and believe it would be a rare occurrence.
"If there's proof the dolphins are coming into the harbour, then I'll agree with you," said local fisherman Paul Cleaver.
Resident Gailene Harvey said the meeting was a poor public consultation.
"The community had to contact the ministry to set this up, a meeting should have already [happened]. There was hardly any advertising and doing it during work hours is a poor effort," she said.
"The number of people in the room today shows there is a real passion and interest on this issue and how it would affect the local fishermen," Otorohanga mayor Max Baxter said. "The overall end result was a clear consensus to have no change made in regard to set net fishing." Inshore Ministry of Fisheries manager Steve Halley said no decisions will be made until consultations are complete and the ministry looks over the submissions.
"We urge everyone to put their views forward as this will give the ministry the best information they need. We came because the people said it was important for us to hear what they have to say.
"This is the largest turnout we've had; it shows the community really cares about their harbour," he said.
MFish advisor Laura Furneaux says coastal set net restrictions were first implemented in 2003.
Adjustments are made based on a combination of factors including science and reported net captures.
Mr Halley said despite no sightings of the dolphins in the harbour, they are still concerned the species could come in as they have been sighted along the coast.
"We need to look at all of the risk factors." The consultation document states set net fishing is estimated to be 20 to 30 times more likely to capture and kill a dolphin compared to a single trawl net.
The TMP risk assessment estimates commercial fishing accounts for about one Maui death every nine years from a population of about 63 animals and about 60 Hector's dolphins deaths each year from a population of 15,700 animals.
Since 2008 when the TMP was established there have been 22 dolphin deaths reported — none of those in the Kawhia Harbour.
Public submissions close at 10am on August 19.
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