Question Time 28 May (Māui’s dolphins)
10. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation : What action, if any, is she going to take to prevent Māui’s dolphin going extinct by 2029 given new research showing the population has declined from an estimated 55 adult dolphins to an estimated 43 to 47 adult Māui’s dolphins?
Mr SPEAKER : In calling the Minister, can I advise that my office has been advised that the answer may be longer than normal.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. We are already taking significant action. The most recent abundance survey for Māui’s dolphin is between 48 and 69 adults, which gives us the approximate number of 55 individuals, which is the scientifically accepted number, and that number has not changed. In 2012 we extended the set-net ban area by 350 square kilometres and put in place a 100 percent observer coverage on all fishing beyond this area, a total of 6,200 square kilometres. That adds up to more than 100 square kilometres of set-net ban area for each of the 55 Māui’s dolphins. The Māui Dolphin Research Advisory Group will be set up next year to provide independent and balanced advice to the Government on the dolphins’ recovery. We are carrying out an extensive abundance survey that will be completed next year, and that covers 1,600 kilometres of surveys. It is being done by taking skin samples, which are then analysed for DNA, from dolphins across two sighting seasons. That is required to give us scientifically robust and rigorous figures rather than non – peer reviewed, computer-based modelling based on old data from 2012.
Eugenie Sage : When 95 percent of all human-induced Māui’s dolphins’ deaths are from being caught in trawl nets and set nets, is allowing trawling in 95 percent of Māui’s dolphins’ habitat and set-netting in 81 percent of their habitat consistent with protecting Māui’s dolphin from extinction?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : That is not correct. Let us be really clear on this. There have been no confirmed records of Māui’s dolphins outside the set-net ban area. The predominant area they inhabit is between Kaipara Harbour and Kāwhia Harbour, which is completely covered by the set-net ban, which already extends between Maunganui Bluff and Hāwera. It is important to know that it is impossible for experts to tell the difference between a Māui’s dolphin and a Hector’s dolphin, without DNA sampling and “necropantsy”—whoops, necropsy; it is a terrible word. It basically means examining them when they are dead.
Mr SPEAKER : Carry on.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : But the Department of Conservation—thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : Bring your answer to a conclusion.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : It is very important to know that even the experts cannot tell a Māui’s dolphin at a glance. You do need to do those figures and those studies first. Thank you.
Eugenie Sage : Does the Minister accept the 2014 recommendations of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission that Māui’s dolphins should be fully protected from set-netting and trawling across their entire range, from Maunganui Bluff in the north to the Whanganui River in the south, 20 nautical miles offshore; if not, why not?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : No, we do not expect that or accept it in any way. As far as we are concerned, and as I have said in my previous answer—and I do not want to extend the Speaker’s patience around this, but, at the risk of repeating myself—we have already put in place all the set-net bans that are required for any recorded sightings. They have been verified scientifically. We have that all covered off. So, no, we do not accept the committee’s recommendations.
Eugenie Sage : Does the Minister agree with Auckland University’s Dr Rochelle Constantine that “What we do know is that we need to do everything we can to help this dolphin survive”; if so, how is allowing trawling and set-netting in the marine mammal sanctuary doing everything we can to help Māui’s dolphin survive?
Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Maggie Barry—either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : We are doing everything that we can to protect the Māui’s dolphin. We have put a great deal of money into it; some three-quarters of a million dollars, which is what we spent on kākāpō recovery, actually. We are vigilant. We are working across the Government with the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation. We have put independent observers on the boats. We have banned set nets in the areas where they are. All of those things that we have taken—they are prudent. If that member from that party wants to do bans across all the fishing areas, in the same way that a former member of your party wanted to stop seismic testing and all of the rest of it in areas that would cost this country $3 billion in mining and exploration, that is not the kind of financial wisdom that this Government will ever accept, because it will take us to hell in a handcart.
Eugenie Sage : I seek leave to table the 2015 report by Barbara Maas of NABU International to the International Whaling Commission, entitled “Estimated Population Size and Decline of Māui’s Dolphin”.
Mr SPEAKER : I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is objection.