A single Hector’s dolphin has been reported caught in a fishing net off the Otago peninsula. This is the first fishing-related Hector’s dolphin death reported in the area since at least 2012.
"Hector’s dolphins are classified as nationally vulnerable and the loss of any is extremely disappointing," says Emma Taylor, director fisheries management, Fisheries New Zealand.
"This incident triggers specific actions set out in the Government’s plan to reduce accidental captures of these precious taonga."
The dolphin was caught in a commercial fishing set net on Sunday (30 April) outside of the Hector’s dolphin protection zone (fishing methods such as setting are prohibited in the protection zone). The vessel, which was carrying a fisheries observer, had been targeting school shark, a common species sold in many fish and chip stores.
The vessel’s skipper reported the capture to Fisheries New Zealand as they are required to do, and the dolphin was brought to shore for the Department of Conservation to send for necropsy.
The South Island Hector’s Dolphin Bycatch Reduction Plan was launched in November last year to strengthen extensive fisheries restrictions already in place to protect Hector’s dolphins. It outlines a suite of regulatory and voluntary measures designed to reduce Hector’s dolphin bycatch towards zero.
Under the Plan, there are fisheries related mortality limits (FRMLs) that set the maximum limit of fishing-related deaths that could occur in an area and enable the Minister to respond quickly with additional regulatory measures to ensure the limit is not exceeded. The FRML for the Otago region is set at 2 Hector’s dolphins per year, putting this incident at 50% of the limit.
"We are meeting with industry representatives and local set net fishers to discuss and develop immediate voluntary measures and collective action that can be taken to avoid any further captures of Hector’s dolphins in the area.
"Following this, Fisheries New Zealand will brief the ministers on whether further regulatory changes should be considered," Emma Taylor said.
- Hector’s dolphin is classified as ‘Nationally Vulnerable’. The total South Island population has most recently been estimated between 12,000 and 18,500. The East Coast South Island population, where the reported capture has occurred, is approximately 9,000.
- Under the Hector’s and Māui Dolphin Threat Management Plan, extensive fisheries restrictions have been put in place to reduce the risk of fishing-related deaths of these dolphins. For the South Island this includes:
- approximately 17,650km2 is closed to set netting, and
- measures, such as closures and gear restrictions, for trawl fishing are in place for approximately 6,988km2.
- The South Island Hector’s Dolphin Bycatch Reduction Plan outlines a suite of regulatory and voluntary measures designed to reduce Hector’s dolphin bycatch towards zero. The plan included the establishment of Fisheries-Related Mortality Limits (FRMLs) for 5 local Hector’s dolphin populations and one subpopulation.
- The limit regulates a maximum number of fishing-related deaths that could occur in an area and enables the Minister to respond quickly with additional regulatory measures to ensure the limit is not exceeded. For the Otago local population, the FRML is set at 2 Hector’s dolphins per fishing year (1 October to 30 September).
- This is the second incident of a Hector’s dolphin being reported caught by commercial fishers this fishing year. In November 2022, 2 Hector’s dolphins were killed in a trawl event off Pegasus Bay, Canterbury. The last reported capture in a commercial set net occurred off the Canterbury coast in March 2020.