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IWC calls for net ban to prevent extinctions

Published: Fri 6 Jul 2012 01:59 PM
IWC calls for net ban to prevent extinctions
Panama City – The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has taken up the cause of some of the world’s most critically endangered marine mammals by calling on governments to keep fishing nets out of their waters to prevent entanglement deaths.
Mexico’s vaquita porpoise and the Maui’s dolphin of New Zealand were a focus of discussions today between countries gathered in Panama City for the commission’s annual meeting. Governments urged Mexico and New Zealand to take all possible measures immediately to save the animals from extinction.
“It’s time for diplomatic niceties and step-wise strategies to take a back seat to immediate, concrete action with no compromise,” said Michael Stachowitsch, delegate of Austria to the IWC.
There are believed to be fewer than 200 vaquitas left, and only 55 remaining Maui’s dolphins over a year old. Both animals are severely threatened by accidental bycatch in gillnet fisheries. A total ban on the use of gillnets in the entire ranges of both populations is needed to secure their survival, according to the IWC Scientific Committee’s report.
Scientists say that unless immediate action is taken the vaquita population could soon be extinct. The only known loss of a mammal species from human causes was the Chinese baiji, or Yangtze river dolphin, which was declared functionally extinct by the IWC in 2006. Governments cautioned that this worst case scenario is near for vaquita.
“WWF recognizes the positive steps taken to date by the Mexican government, but they have not led to the vaquita’s recovery. In order to save this species from extinction, President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto must impose a complete ban on the use of gillnets within the entire habitat of the vaquita,” said Aimee Leslie, WWF’s marine turtle and cetacean manager.
A similar ban on gillnets and trawl nets is urgently needed throughout the whole habitat of Maui’s dolphin, which is found only in the shallow waters surrounding the North Island of New Zealand. Protection measures announced by the government last week are not enough to save the animals from extinction.
“This fishing could drive the dolphins to extinction. Advances in technology mean that fishermen and Maui’s dolphins can safely share New Zealand’s waters. We urge the use of alternative fishing gear that is dolphin-friendly and to keep all gillnets and trawl nets out of Maui’s habitat,” Leslie said.
Incidental capture in fishing operations is the biggest threat to cetacean species today. It is estimated that more than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die each year from entanglement in many types of fishing gear, which is an average of one cetacean killed by bycatch every two minutes.
Despite their small numbers, hope remains for vaquitas and Maui’s dolphins. If bycatch is eliminated, scientists believe populations can recover. WWF is supporting the development of alternative fishing gear that is safer for cetaceans and marine turtles.
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About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
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