Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley has signalled substantial changes to inshore fishing regulations after the election, including opening up new areas to commercial paua harvesting in a bid to curb poaching.
Mr Heatley told commercial fisheries representatives there could also be substantially larger commercial catch limits for snapper in waters around much of the North Island and greater flexibility over the timing of rock lobster harvest in Otago.
While he was not specific about which areas could be opened to paua harvest, the seafood industry has submitted a proposal to be able to harvest areas around the south coast near Wellington, as well as parts of the Taranaki coast.
Speaking at the Seafood Industry Council conference in Wellington yesterday, Mr Heatley said that if he remained fisheries minister after the election, he wanted fisheries officials to switch focus from deep-sea fishing regulation and aquaculture legislation to inshore fisheries.
While no decisions had been made, possible changes could include the opening up of new areas to commercial fishing and increasing catch limits for certain areas. "I see huge opportunities to grow catches in that [inshore] area but also get better value."
Mr Heatley said up to half of the paua take was harvested illegally, much of it poached from areas where commercial operators were prohibited.
Opening the areas to such operators would increase vigilance and provide legitimate income, he said. "The reality is, when you've got eyes and ears on the ground, fishermen and fishing boats out there fishing paua, you're less likely to get poaching. Where's the most poaching? The poaching is where people aren't.
"I think if you get commercial fishers more active in those areas of coast, the same amount of paua will be caught [but] it'll be legal, there'll be a return to New Zealand."
There were also opportunities to react more quickly to research into stocks with a view to increasing commercial limits.
Commercial limits for snapper in regions known as Snapper 1 and Snapper 8 could be raised "quite substantially", Mr Heatley said.
Snapper 1 and Snapper 8 cover most of the North Island coast, from the Makara Coast west of Wellington, the entire west coast, around Northland, stretching to the far east of the Bay of Plenty.
Mr Heatley also supported a relaxation of the rock lobster harvest season to allow collection when the lobsters were in the best condition and when market demand was strongest.
In Otago, rock lobsters can be taken commercially only between June and November, a period which did not cover some key demand periods, such as the Chinese New Year.
"If the government sets the commercial catch, what does it matter when you catch it? If you can match it with overseas prices, then as much as possible we should allow that to happen," Mr Heatley said.
The Rock Lobster Industry Council said the proposals could be implemented with little impact on sustainability.
ON THE CARDS
Commercial paua harvesting could be increased to include areas near Wellington and the Taranaki coast where it is currently prohibited
Snapper quotas around much of the North Island could be "substantially" increased
Rock lobster harvest season could be extended in Otago to take advantage of market opportunities
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