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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
Interview - ABC Radio's Pacific Beat
Monday, 18 August 2003
Dr Kemp: Well, we are very pleased that the Mexican government has now made a public statement in relation to the import from the Solomon Islands, and their clear statement that they're not going to authorise any further imports from the Solomons.
I think this is an important step forward in ensuring the welfare of the dolphins that remain in captivity in the Solomon Islands because it takes away one potential market for the remaining dolphins.
And I want to say that the Australian government very much welcomes the Mexican position and thanks Mexico for providing the information.
Presenter: Is there any chance that Mexico might be used as a staging post to import them and then carry them further?
Kemp: I doubt that that is the case. The reason I say that is because the Mexican government has been very strong and very consistent on the protection of (indistinct) of which dolphins are an example. And I would expect that this matter will now be looked at very, very closely and on a continuing basis in Mexico.
I notice that as a result of the press interest and the formal complaints on the legality of the import authorisation, the Mexican government has sought an independent assessment of the import, and I think that that's an indicator of just how seriously they are taking this matter, and I'd be very surprised if they were now prepared to allow the re-export of these dolphins to other areas and other countries.
Presenter: What influence can you have then on the Solomon Islands government who allows the permits for the exports of the dolphins?
Kemp: Well, I've been in touch with the Solomon Islands Fisheries Minister Nelson Kile and he's promised to provide me with further information on the status of the dolphins, and has indicated his willingness to be perfectly transparent about the way in which the Solomon Islands have dealt with the matter.
I've also asked the High Commission in Honiara to continue to indicate our interest in the matter. So, at the moment, we are very much in the hands of the Solomon Islands government in providing the information, but they're indicating that they're very happy to be open about it. So we should be in a position to make strong assessment of exactly what has transpired at the Solomons end.
Presenter: Well, there are reports of a further hundred and seventy being held in sea pens in Honiara and more, I gather, on the outer islands. Is there any way Australia could help with the welfare of these dolphins?
Kemp: Well, I think that's right that there are possibly as many as a hundred and seventy dolphins remaining, though we can't confirm precisely the number of dolphins that there are, and there are continuing reports that the pens in which these dolphins are being held are very shallow and that the dolphins are in an overcrowded condition, and that their welfare may be at risk.
We're closely monitoring the welfare of these dolphins, and if there is anything of course that we can do to ...
Presenter: But ...
Kemp:... assist in this, we would be very happy to do it.
Presenter: Would that include sending officers from the Fisheries and Wildlife Department or vets?
Kemp: Well, it could possibly involve something of that kind, though I wouldn't want to be specific at this stage about the nature of any help that we might offer, because the Solomon Islands have not indicated at the moment that they are seeking this help, and so we haven't formally made that offer to them.
There is, of course, the circumstance that these dolphins are now being held, when it appears that there are no export permits for these dolphins. It also seems that they have been captured for export. It doesn't seem to have been as part of the traditional dealing with dolphins in the Solomons that these dolphins have been held. So that raises the question about their future and how long they will be held in captivity. And I think it does raise the question whether or not they ought to continue to be held.
Presenter: Well, if there are no markets, they should be released.
Kemp: Well, I would have thought that that's an obvious course of action for the Solomon Islands to take, given the fact that the Solomon Islands has indicated that it doesn't intend to provide any further export permits.
Presenter: On the other hand, I gather they're bringing in four hundred dollars - that's two hundred and sixty US dollars each - to impoverished fishermen.
Kemp: Well, there's no doubt it's been a money making venture for a number of people, including the fishermen involved. There have been reports of quite high purchase prices being paid for these dolphins to the company that was responsible for the export.
Our High Commission in Honiara suggests that the company exporting the dolphins has informed them that it's received something of the order of two and a half thousand dollars per dolphin, which is a substantial sum of money, though it is considerably lower than some of the sums that have been mentioned in other circumstances.
Presenter: Do you see Australia acting in other areas of the Pacific to protect wildlife?
Kemp: Well, we are doing that. I mean, this is a very important issue for Australia and I ... as you may know, I represent it and led the Australian delegation at the recent International Whaling Commission conference in Berlin, and pursued there again the goal of a South Pacific whale sanctuary.
Now, that is supported by a majority of the countries on the International Whaling Commission, but it needs a seventy-five per cent vote to actually get up and we didn't manage to achieve that vote. But there is very strong support for it within the commission, and I think partly reflecting the strong international support, a very large number now of South Pacific countries have declared their own two hundred mile exclusive economic zones as whale sanctuaries. And, quite recently, Papua New Guinea have indicated that they intend to do this and New Caledonia as well.
So, a substantial part of the area that would be included in the South Pacific whale sanctuary is now included in individual country sanctuaries, and that's a very good development.
Presenter: Well, it's certainly progress.
Kemp: It is. And Australia is pursuing this very strongly and we'll continue to do so.