December 7, 2022
Featured image: © Steve Dawson, New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust
NEW ZEALAND (November 28th, 2022)
This week, the US Court of International Trade banned the import of New Zealand fish caught in trawl and gillnet fisheries, off the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Judge Gary Katzmann made this decision to help protect the critically endangered Māui dolphin. With only about 50 individuals left, the Maui dolphin is literally teetering on the brink of extinction. The International Whaling Commission and IUCN have both urged New Zealand, since 2012, to fully protect these dolphins. The continued lack of effective protection resulted in the US banning fish imports from New Zealand, because New Zealand has failed to implement dolphin protection that is comparable to the US.
A Model Approach
Judge Katzmann made a similar decision to help protect the Mexican vaquita porpoise. Currently, Mexican seafood from fisheries that kill vaquita are banned from import to the USA. This kind of international pressure can be a very powerful incentive for countries to improve their conservation standards. The court documents are available here.
What This Means
Companies wishing to export fish to the USA will now need to provide proof that these were not caught in gill nets or trawl nets off the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. This will be difficult because New Zealand does not have a product tracing system that makes it possible to identify which box of fish comes from where.
Until New Zealand sets up a fish tracking system, the US will not be able to import any New Zealand hoki (Macruronus novaezelandiae). Right now, McDonald’s in the US buys large quantities of New Zealand hoki, so this could cost New Zealand many millions of dollars.
The court decision is also a rejection of the risk model that the New Zealand fisheries agency used in making their decisions on dolphin protection. The IWC, IUCN and other international experts have recommended much stronger protection measures than those implemented by MPI. The New Zealand fisheries agency’s risk model has received strong criticism from the IWC Scientific Committee and other national and international experts.
A Simple Solution
Mission Blue supports Recommendation 142 from the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2012 that the New Zealand government should:
“Urgently extend dolphin protection” by “banning gill net and trawl net use from the shoreline to the 100-meter depth contour in all areas where Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins are found, including harbors.”
The US Court decision demonstrates that New Zealand’s fisheries agency has seriously mismanaged this conservation problem. Their message has been that everything is being done to save the dolphins, and they have it all under control. This is clearly not the case. Aside from the US Court, the IUCN and NGOs, the IWC Scientific Committee are currently carrying out a detailed peer review of the risk model. The New Zealand fisheries agency seems to prefer the offshore distance to water depth, as an offshore boundary for dolphin protection. Hector’s and Maui dolphins live in waters less than 100 m deep, but 20 nautical miles offshore would be a reasonable compromise, according to the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust.
What you can do:
Email Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask her to protect Hector’s and Maui dolphins by banning gill nets and trawl nets in waters fewer than 100 meters deep all around New Zealand.