Hector's Dolphins: Legal Challenge

In 2008, a number of commercial fishing groups requested a judicial review to overturn the Government’s new fishing regulations.

The court granted interim relief, allowing fishing to continue off the West Coast of the North Island and parts of the East and South coasts of the South Island until proceedings in the High Court were completed.

The case was heard in the High Court in Wellington in May 2009. A final decision was announced by the then Minister of Fisheries nearly two years later in March, 2011.

As a result, fishing continued in the exempted areas for nearly two years, putting Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins at unnecessary risk.

The then Minister of Primary Industries Phil Heatley 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 west coast of the North Island
  • provide an exemption to the set net prohibition on the east coast of the South Island to allow commercial fishers targeting butterfish to use set nets in a defined area.

The Minister’s decision fails to protect all areas where Hector’s are found and INCREASED the risk by allowing set nets to be used in defined areas. Associate Professor Dr Liz Slooten from the University of Otago says the population of Hector's dolphin will decline by 14% by 2050 if the set net bans are not extended.