Foreign scientists yesterday suggested banning all gill and trammel nets within the habitat of Taiwan’s population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) — which is critically endangered with an estimated 74 individuals — expanding the designated protection area and communicating with fishermen to restore its population.
The suggestions were made during a workshop hosted by the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group in Taipei and Greater Tainan over the past few days.
The workshop was established in 2007 to provide conservation-based scientific advice for aiding the recovery of the dolphin population around Taiwan and was formed by local scientists as well as experts from Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, the UK and the US.
“The Taiwanese white dolphins are suffering from terrible injuries associated with fishing nets,” said Peter Ross, chair of the group and program director at the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada.
According to the group, approximately 30 percent of the dolphins bear scars from previous entanglements and some still have nets wrapped around their bodies causing suffering and impairing their ability to feed and reproduce.
“The best hope to reduce this threat and recover this critically endangered population would come from banning gill nets in their habitat and encouraging fishermen to switch to more selective fishing equipment,” Ross said.
He said that in the past few days, the team of experts agreed upon a plan to eliminate the impact of fishing on the dolphins and recommended banning all gill and trammel nets within the dolphins’ habitat, compensating fishermen who are willing to begin new careers, encourage sustainable and dolphin-friendly fishing methods and strictly enforce an existing ban on inshore trawling.
Ross said that although the group recognizes the Forestry Bureau’s decision last week to designate a Major Wildlife Habitat for the dolphins as an important development, it suggested the area be increased to cover the area from off Miaoli County’s Lungfung Port (龍鳳港) to Tainan’s Chiangchun Fishing Harbor (將軍漁港).
He added that despite the habitat, the major threats to the dolphins — including air, water and noise pollution and habitat destruction — must also be addressed and reduced because the dolphins do not only swim in the designated area and pollution cannot be kept out of it.
The group said that if the plan is implemented successfully, their goal of increasing the population from 74 to 100 — the criteria to change its current status of “critically endangered” to “endangered” as designated by the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) — may be attainable by 2030.
Tropical Marine Research for Conservation marine biologist Louella Dolar shared an account from the Philippines, where a “no-take marine reserve” was set up in about a quarter of a village’s common fishing area, allowing fish resources to recover naturally.
Dolar said the reserve was successful because local fishermen were in charge of patrolling and managing the area.
The results became apparent in just a few years, as abundant fish resources that grew in the reserve spilled over to other areas of the fishery, allowing fishermen to catch more fish than before, she said.