Drones wanted in fight to protect Māui dolphins

Māui dolphins. - Photo: Supplied.

Two fishing companies and WWF want drones, new rules, and support for out-of-work fishers as part of a package to protect Māui dolphins.

The government's proposals to protect the dolphins include bans on set nets and trawling out as far as 12-nautical miles offshore, or 100 metres deep, between Maunganui Bluff and New Plymouth, with smaller bans elsewhere along the coast.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) along with Sanford and Moana Seafoods are calling for some smaller exclusion areas, and more of a focus on technical and scientific solutions to stop the dolphins being caught.

Those include drones to spot dolphins, a mandatory 'move on' rule when they are spotted; and a 30-day local closure if a dolphin is caught.

They also want more support for fishers who will lose work if bans on set nets and trawling are introduced.

And they want more dedicated research into the threat toxoplasmosis poses to the dolphins.

WWF New Zealand's chief executive Livia Esterhazy says although some of their fishing-exclusion areas are smaller than the government was proposing, that's less important than monitoring exactly where the dolphins are.

"That means using technology that is available to us now - drones, acoustic sound, thermal imagery - to tell fishermen in real time there is a pod of dolphins close to you and for those fishermen to move on and stop fishing immediately.

"Both Moana and Sanford have agreed and committed to the 'move on' rule of any dolphin within 10 nautical miles of being pinged."

WWF had "absolutely not" been captured by industry, she says.

"Everything that we have put down is backed on science, and also the science has led us to looking at a different approach and that's the innovation: how can we do this differently?

"If there is a 10 nautical mile radius of protection around these dolphins wherever they move in real time, that is more protection than any of [the government's] options are offering those dolphins.

"[The government's] options are algorithmic lines in the sand of best guesses and best estimates of where these dolphins are.

"Dolphins in reality don't know where that line in the sand is."

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