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Dolphin plan threatens butterfish supply

Friday 30 August 2019

Wellington’s Muollo family has fished Cook Strait and its coastline for a century.

That way of life is now threatened by a proposed Maui and Hector’s dolphin management plan that would greatly expand already extensive set netting and trawl bans on the North Island’s west coast.

John Muollo, general manager of Deep Blue Seafoods based in Wellington’s Webb Street, stands to lose his butterfish business as a result.

That is despite it representing no threat to the critically endangered Maui dolphins, whose habitat is hundreds of kilometres to the north.

“This proposal as it stands, unless status quo is the result, will completely knock out ability to butterfish on the south west coast,” Muollo said in a submission on the plan.

“The only area that will be able to fish is the western side of Kapiti Island and this would mean our safety would be compromised. As well as that, the fishery would decline rapidly through intensity of effort if our ability is limited to this small area.

“My family in three generations have been the pioneers of many fishing methods and endured the hardships associated with this industry. All children have helped in family duties in the companies we have operated within this industry as well as many of the senior folk being active in search and rescue in the Cook Strait area. This has been the culture in which we have grown up. My grandfather came from Italy in 1922 and butterfish fishing was one of the ways he derived income. In their days they would even make their own mesh for nets from hemp.

“During that time and through the many years we as a fishing community have never caught a Maui or Hector’s dolphin in the nets we fish. Our form of netting these days on the south west coast of the North Island is butterfishing using 4 ¼ inch mesh. We target our set nets to catch butterfish in waters which are not consistent with that of the habitat of the Maui or Hector’s dolphin. The water in which we fish is rocky and weedy and very close to shore. It is clear water due to the flow of the Cook Strait current. The butterfish fishery on the south west coast gives the fisherman an opportunity to make an income during the winter months when the fish group up.”

He said fishermen are like farmers and use alternating fisheries like crop rotation.

“This is the way my family have fished now for close to 100 years.

“I have come to understand that the government wants to ban our way of fishing even though there has never been an account of a Maui dolphin caught in a butterfish net.”

His submission included extensive scientific data on dolphin interactions.

Threat management plan submissions closed last week and are now being considered.

Seafood NZ launched a media campaign this week with a full page advertisement in The Dominion Post headed: No fisher wants to kill a Maui dolphin.

The sub head stated: That’s why no fisher in 17 years has.

The last confirmed Maui death as a result of fishing activity was in 2002.

The cat-borne disease toxoplasmosis entering waterways has since been recognised as a much more significant threat to the species.

“Most fishers have never seen a Maui,” the ad states.

“Neither have the observers on their boats.

“Yet this vanishingly small likelihood is being cited as a reason to close down businesses and devastate communities.

“These businesses are not large corporates. They’re the people - (like John Muollo) – who supply your local fish and chip shop.” 

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