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Set net ban looms in Kaikoura after mutilated dolphin found
The Marlborough express

8th January 2004

Kaikoura faces the growing likelihood of a total set net ban after another mutilated dolphin was found off its coast yesterday.

It is the second incident of a marine mammal carcass being mutilated in less than a week, and the third in three months.

Department of Conservation Kaikoura field centre supervisor Mike Morrissey said the dead dolphin was discovered at sea by a Dolphin Encounter boat yesterday morning.

The dolphin carcass showed signs of having being caught in a set net, and part of its tail appeared to have been cut by a knife.

It was disappointing that a tour operator with visitors had come across the carcass, and a lot of the passengers were distressed about it, Mr Morrissey said.

Local anecdotal evidence suggested that between 50 and 100 dusky dolphins were being caught in set nets each year off the Kaikoura coast.

"But we have no concrete way of being able to confirm that, because they are not being reported and the bodies are being dumped," Mr Morrissey said.

He added that it appeared people catching the dolphins were trying to destroy the evidence to avoid a total set net ban, however it was a strong possibility that with the number of dead dolphins being found there would be a ban anyway.

Members of the Kaikoura boat club and recreational fishing association have a voluntary set net ban in areas dolphins are known to frequent.

If DOC and the Ministry of Fisheries knew how many dolphins were being caught in set nets, they would be able to put in place safe fishing management practices, Mr Morrissey said.

"But we are just basing that (dolphins being caught) on the evidence of dolphins being found dead. We've nothing to base it on so we can put in any practices to minimise net capture."

"We don't know where and when the dolphins are being caught. It's very bad to make a decision based on a lack of information, but sometimes you have to do it rather than sit back and do nothing," Mr Morrissey said.

He suggested that a seasonal practice could be causing the problem of dolphins being caught in the nets, and if this was known, fishing practices could be tailored accordingly to avoid net capture.

Mr Morrissey appealed to those who accidentally caught a dolphin to report the incident to DOC, so a database of dolphin set net captures could be put together.

"It's not illegal to accidentally catch a dolphin but it is illegal to kill or mutilate a marine mammal, with a fine of up to $250,000 or jail time for a deliberate act of mutilation," he said.