Outrageous Fortune star Robyn Malcolm has called on the Government to do more to help the world's smallest and rarest dolphin.
Ministers are currently consulting on a plan to extend protections for the Māui dolphin, of which there are thought to be as few as 57 left alive, and the Hector's dolphin population, both of which are only found in New Zealand waters.
The draft proposal would see restrictions on trawling and set-netting in the dolphins' habitats extended, marine sanctuaries expanded further down the west coast of the North Island and east of the South Island and more restrictions put on seismic surveying in waters.
Environmentalists say the changes are too incremental and that every bycatch is catastrophic, given the Māui dolphin is on the brink of extinction. The fishing industry, meanwhile, says they go too far and will cost jobs for no benefit.
Malcolm joined a small march, organised by Greenpeace and World Animal Protection, of about 30 people carrying dolphin-shaped signs on Monday, to hand a 55,000-signature petition to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.
Their submission to the Government's review calls for the ban on trawling to be extended further, to depths of 100m, dolphin habitats, and an urgent rollout of electronic monitoring and cameras on ships in the areas.
Malcolm said protecting the dolphins was a national responsibility.
"They're ours. We look after our own backyard, don't we? Does that mean we just mow everything down to plant a carrot or does that mean we really look after our backyard?"
Malcolm said she had seen the dolphins in the wild over Christmas and was stunned to learn their population had been declining despite four protection plans being put in over three decades.
"It hasn't worked so far. There needs to be a much more blanket rule around the depth … right around the coast because they move around New Zealand waters," she said.
"We start by standing in front of the house of our country's elected leaders and we urge them to do something proper, not a piss-take, something proper."
University of Otago marine biology professor Liz Shooten was among those in attendance and said the extensions proposed fell short of what was needed.
"They're leaving a great big gap off the south side of Banks Peninsula, they're leaving a gap off Marlborough and, critically, they are not putting in any better protections for these little [Hector's] populations around the South Island like Otago and in the Catlins," she said.
The approach being taken was one of saying "this is the maximum number that we think we can take without them going extinct" and wouldn't help smaller groups of Hector's.
"The trouble with that approach is it leaves out protection for these tiny little populations … This is what a fisheries manager would do, who is going out and catching fish. This is not what a conservation biologist would do," Shooten said.
"For Māui dolphin the fact that we didn't do it 10 years ago is a serious factor."
Accepting the petition, Sage described seeing a dead Hector's dolphin while on Christchurch's Sumner Beach with Labour MP Ruth Dyson decades ago.
"It had been killed in a net. The marks of the net were still on its snout. We were both there, standing in tears," Sage said.
The proposed plan would double the size of the area closed to trawling and set nets but the submissions would be considered, she said.
But the fishing industry says the proposed Threat Management Plan will put hundreds of small fisherman out of the job and not save any Māui dolphins.
Seafood chief executive Tim Pankhurst said the current rules, introduced in 2007, were significant and working.
"Not one Māui dolphin has been confirmed caught by a commercial fisherman since 2002," he said.
"This is no longer about dolphins. It is an environmentally-driven, anti-fishing agenda that gives no consideration to the livelihoods of fishermen and their families."
He said the proposal included no analysis on the effects to fishermen.
"The fishermen affected by this proposal are not large corporates. They are the people who supply your local fish and chip shop. They are fishing small, inshore quota, many the result of Treaty settlements."
A briefing to Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash released in June showed the Government was concerned about 12 reported Hector's dolphins caught in commercial fishing nets over the past two summers.
But it said it was likely the actual number was significantly higher.
"Recent scientific work has estimated that approximately 42 Hector's dolphin mortalities are expected per year from set netting, and 4.4 mortalities from trawling," the report said.
There are currently 15,000 Hector's dolphins and they are considered vulnerable. The Māui dolphin is a subspecies of the Hector's.
The Government is scheduled to announce its final plan in October.