Welcome to Banks Peninsula, home of The Hector’s dolphins and eco-tourism pioneers Black Cat Cruises

How effective are the government’s new fishing rules at saving the endangered Hector’s Dolphins?

What is this about?


akaroa  dolphins

Just under a year ago, a very important matter regarding the future of Hector’s dolphins was opened to submissions from the public.


The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was trying to decide how to further protect Hector’s and Maui dolphins from ‘Bycatch’. Bycatch refers to accidentally catching one species whilst fishing for another. It has been a serious issue for Hector’s dolphins for decades. If left unchecked, it will unequivocally reduce their population to a critical level.


Four options were discussed, and we discussed our thoughts on them here. We also made a submission ourselves and released a template fo

r others that wanted to see real change. David Parker (Minister for Oceans and Fisheries) has now released his decisions.


What changes have been made?


hectors dolphin threat management plan

Okay here are the facts:

  1. A new Bycatch Reduction Plan is in place which will work to “reduce bycatch to zero over time.” The effectiveness of this plan is yet to be seen and will depend on how people involved act, as we discuss later on.
  2. There is now a fishing-related mortality rate in place for dolphins around the East and South Coast of the South Island. This means that if enough dolphins are reported to be killed within a certain area, new ‘emergency’ measures can be enforced by the Minister. Below is the released graphic which shows the limits for each population.
  3. These limits have changed slightly from the initial conception in 2020. The Otago region was reduced from 6 to 2 after concerns about their population. Minister Parker decided to make up the difference by increasing Banks Peninsula’s limit from 18 to 20, and Timaru’s from 10 to 12.
  4. It will now be compulsory for larger fishing vessels to have onboard cameras on them from mid-2023 onwards. This will, in theory, allow independent monitoring and audits to occur, encouraging fishers to report bycatch. In addition, it should help the Fishing Industry, the Department of Conservation Protected Species Liaison Programme, and Fisheries New Zealand gather more data and make further changes later on.
  5. The South Island Hector’s Dolphin forum is being established to involve “tangata whenua, fishers, local communities and interested stakeholders in the management approach [to the bycatch reduction plan].” This will allow more information to be shared and different voices can give their thoughts and suggestions.
  6. Many Voluntary measures will also be encouraged for Fishers operating in these waters. This includes making detailed reports of every dolphin caught and the circumstances around it, supporting new mitigation techniques suggested by The South Island Hector’s Dolphin forum, making public quarterly reports on the performance of the plan, and an annual review and report on performance to the relevant Ministers. There will also be an expectation for the Fishing Industry to intervene more heavily on vessels and areas that come close to exceeding the fishing-related mortality rates.
  7. Finally, there has been an increase in the set-net fishing closures around Banks Peninsula as pictured in this graphic below.

set net zone banks peninsula

What we like


We welcome any changes made in an effort to save the endangered native dolphins of New Zealand. The increase in set-net fishing closures around Banks Peninsula is a great, concrete change. Dolphins in this area are a little bit safer from set nets, and that will make at least some difference. 


We also like the enforcement of cameras on large fishing vessels. If done right, and correctly enforced, it will provide invaluable information going forward. Information that can help experts understand more about the dolphin’s movements and behaviours. Hopefully, this will lead to additional changes in the future that actually make a direct difference.


We like the increased involvement of various communities and organisations in reducing bycatch. The South Island Hector’s Dolphin forum can be a great way to share new evidence and data with experts.


What we don’t like


We feel it is unnecessary to increase the fishing-related mortality rate for Timaru and Banks Peninsula.  Minister Parker notes that these new numbers still remain “less than half of the population sustainability threshold value [for these regions.]” However, the science behind this is very questionable; there are a number of assumptions about normal population size and recovery that are made here which should be challenged.


If the goal is, as Minister Parker says, to reduce bycatch to zero in the future, why does it make sense to increase the mortality rate anywhere? Why give fishers in these regions a larger threshold before action can be taken? Reducing the rate in Otago from 6 to 2 is great for that population and should remain, but there is no need to offset this difference in other regions. Every single dolphin’s life matters for this population’s survival. 


Very simply the plan calls for it to be ‘OK’ for 46 dolphins to be killed by fishers each year on the East Coast of the South Island with no further protection to be made. We don’t think that’s appropriate and feel the vast majority of people will agree with us.


There is a noticeable absence of additional trawl-net restrictions in any area following this announcement. They can still operate in many areas where set nets are banned. Trawl nets can be equally lethal for dolphins. Just banning set nets may lead more fishers to operate trawl nets, making the waters just as dangerous as before. We would like to see more restrictions as option 3 proposed.


We also note the lack of change in some other regions of the South Island. No additional areas are banned besides Banks Peninsula. The West Coast is especially concerning given that there is no fishing-related mortality rate for the whole region. We also see cameras won’t be enforced in these areas until mid-2024. Things need to move quicker than this.


Finally, there are no changes to the rules around setting recreational flounder nets in the upper Banks Peninsula harbours between April and October each year – yes folks fishers can set nets during the ‘off season’ inside the harbours – a place where we know dolphins are present.


Important things going forward


This plan relies on everybody working together so that Hector’s dolphins can flourish again. Minister Parker wrote that “The industry has indicated that they are committed to reducing Hector’s dolphins bycatch. They also accept that with responsibility comes accountability.” We expect every single incident involving a Hector’s Dolphin to be reported. We expect those who fail to do so get held accountable. We expect fishers to take new suggestions and voluntary measures seriously. We expect cameras to be functional at all times and for audits of the footage to be comprehensive. This last point is especially important in keeping fishers accountable. 


In saying this, it is important that we all remain accepting when bycatch is reported. Whilst it is upsetting to hear, it is far better to have the reports due to the information it gives and the closer it brings the number to the maximum threshold. Fishers should be commended for reporting their bycatch as it shows they are working towards making changes. 


We encourage everyone to report sightings of dead or injured dolphins to 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468). Whether you see it on the beach, in a net or hauled onto a fishing vessel, call that line. The information is always valuable. 


We also encourage you to continue engaging with us as we monitor how this plan evolves. This plan is a start but we must all continue to evaluate its effectiveness going forward. Also, follow the ‘New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust’ to stay even more in the loop. Members include qualified experts and marine biologists like Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson.


Written by Josh Bingham