Dolphin Management Measures Announced

18 March 2011

 Dolphin management measures announced

 The Ministry of Fisheries today announced decisions flowing from a review of the closure of two areas to set net fishing.

 The review covered restrictions on fishing designed to manage the threats posed to the West Coast North Island (WCNI) Maui’s dolphin population and the East Coast South Island (ECSI) Hector’s dolphin population.

 Gavin Lockwood, Ministry of Fisheries Deputy Chief Executive Fisheries Management, said the review followed a High Court ruling last year that two restrictions implemented in 2008 to protect dolphins were to be reconsidered. 

 “These restrictions were the extension of set net closures on the WCNI from four nautical miles to seven nautical miles from the shore and the closure of an area of the ECSI to targeted commercial fishing for butterfish,” Mr Lockwood said.

 The restrictions were part of a package of area closures and fishing method restrictions implemented as part of the Hector’s and Maui’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan developed by the Ministry of Fisheries and the Department of Conservation in 2008.   

 Mr Lockwood reported that, having reconsidered the restrictions, Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Phil Heatley has decided:


  • To retain the prohibition on commercial fishing using set nets in the area between four and seven nautical miles from the shore on the WCNI
  • To provide an exemption to the set net prohibition on the ECSI to allow commercial fishers targeting butterfish to use set nets in a defined area.

The key reasons for these decisions are:


  • The Maui’s dolphin population is about 111. Given this population, very low levels of mortality caused by people can have a significant impact. The Minister considers that although the risk of mortality from fishing in the four to seven nautical mile area is low, it is not acceptable.
  • The Minister considers that there is an acceptable level of risk in terms of mortality from butterfish fishing by commercial fishers on the ECSI given the type of fishing gear they use, the size of the area and the numbers of Hector’s dolphins.

Mr Heatley also directed the Ministry to advise him whether an exemption may be warranted for recreational set net fishers targeting butterfish in the same defined area of the ECSI where he granted the commercial exemption. The Ministry will release a consultation document shortly. 

 For the Minister’s decision letter and more information on the restrictions, go to:


Decision timeline

 2003                Management measures introduced to manage the effects of fishing on Hector’s and Maui’s (H&M) dolphins

 2006                Minister of Fisheries puts interim measures in place while Threat Management Plan (TMP) being developed

 2007                Concern over effects of human-induced mortality on H&M dolphins leads to development of TMP by MFish and DoC - released for consultation in August

 2008                Draft TMP includes options to avoid, remedy, and mitigate effects of fishing-related mortality on H&M dolphins

                         Minister of Fisheries announces decisions in May; into force on 1 October.  Prohibitions and restrictions apply to commercial and recreational fishers and affect set netting, trawling, and drift netting
NZ Federation of Commercial Fishermen and others lodge legal challenge to new rules. In September, High Court grants interim relief

2010                Wellington High Court judgment issued in February. Court upholds four of six restrictions that were the subject of the legal challenge and refers two back to Minister for reconsideration

                        MFish releases initial position paper for consultation and receives 1,661 submissions

2011                In February, MFish provides Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture with a final advice paper on fisheries measures for the two areas under consideration. 

More information

Angus McLeod, Acting Team Leader External Communications, (04) 819 4217 or 0274 818 111