The latest estimate of the critically endangered Māui dolphin population has dropped by 14 percent in the past five years, according to a report leaked to RNZ.
The latest survey by the Department of Conservation showed there were only 54 left.
It came about when a United States court considered New Zealand’s export ban on seafood.
Conservation group Sea Shepherd had asked the United States Court of International Trade to introduce the ban in response to what it characterized as a lack of action by the New Zealand government to protect critically endangered dolphins, they were one of the rarest in the world.
Under US law, an import ban could go into effect if a country does not apply protections similar to those that exist in its own waters.
Sea Shepherd said that this country had not implemented a recommendation from the International Whaling Commission to ban all trawls and setting down to a depth of 100 meters, areas known to be frequented by dolphins.
In February, a decomposing female Māui dolphin was found washed up on Muriwai Beach, bringing them one step closer to extinction.
Sea Shepherd New Zealand spokesman Michael Lawry said news that its numbers have dropped further could tip the balance of the case in its favor.
He said a ban on our seafood exports to the United States, worth an estimated $ 200 million a year, could finally convince the Commerce Department to bring in better protections.
“They are trying to protect the fishing industry, they are not really trying to protect dolphins … that’s the plain truth. If they really wanted to protect dolphins, they would be protecting them up to 100%.” [metre] depth contour “.
He said Fisheries NZ now needed to reconsider a proposal to potentially double the amount of snapper that could be caught commercially off the west coast of the North Island, an area that dolphins were known to inhabit.
“And this goes back to the days in the 70s, 80s and 90s where all this trouble started, where they were doing massive trawling off the west coast and this is when the Māui dolphin was hammered.”
However, the leaked report said that despite the decline in numbers, no additional protections were needed.
“The dolphin of Māui TMP [Threat Management Plan] Fishing targets continue to be met as current fishing measures effectively restrict the estimated level of fishing-related mortality to zero. We do not consider that these measures, including those implemented last year, need to be reviewed at this time. “
The DoC had already been accused of trying to downplay the decline in Māui dolphin numbers, such as taking four months to report the dead Māui dolphin found off Muriwai beach this year.
The leaked report showed their efforts to manage the release of the latest bad news.
“A final report will be made available to the public before the end of the year. The DoC and Fisheries New Zealand will work closely with the offices of both ministers to ensure a communications plan is in place prior to the joint Scientific Working Group meeting. “.
In a statement Friday night, DoC Marine Species Manager Ian Angus said that, in addition to the updated Threat Management Plan, “he had also expanded the North Island West Coast Marine Mammal Sanctuary and implemented bans on new seafloor mining and seismic lifting activities to protect dolphins and create a toxoplasmosis action plan to address the toxoplasmosis threat. “
He said it was not possible to infer any “trends” in population numbers that were in the range of 48 to 66 individuals older than one year and therefore within the range observed in previous years.
The DoC was waiting for the survey to be peer-reviewed before making it public, he said.