WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand announced plans Friday to restrict fishing in some regions to try to save the world's smallest and rarest dolphin from extinction.
Experts estimate there are only 55 Maui's dolphins remaining. Unique to the South Pacific nation, the dolphins have short snouts and rounded fins. They are gray, black and white, and grow no longer than 1.7 meters (5.6 feet).
Conservation Minister Nick Smith said he wants to extend areas around the Taranaki region where commercial fishing nets are banned. He plans to make a final ruling next month following a period of public consultation.
"Where there are confirmed and reliable sightings of Maui's dolphins, we are not having set net fishing," he said Friday. "But equally, I don't want to ban fishing in areas where I have no concrete evidence that Maui's dolphins occupy."
The nets are typically made of nylon and left overnight by fishermen. About five of the dolphins have become ensnared and died in the nets since 2000.
The proposed changes will likely leave a handful of Taranaki fishermen out of work.
Chris Howe, executive director of the New Zealand branch of the conservation group WWF, said in a statement that the proposed new measures are a step in the right direction but don't go far enough to ensure the species' survival. He said a comprehensive marine sanctuary is needed.