Marlborough Sounds fishermen concerned about effects of commercial blue cod ban

Fishermen are angry about a blue cod closure in the Marlborough Sounds.
SUPPLIED: ROB DAVIDSON

Fishermen are angry about a blue cod closure in the Marlborough Sounds.

A ban on commercial blue cod fishing in the Marlborough Sounds has been branded "insane" by fishermen who will be out of work for the next four months.

The Ministry for Primary Industries closed the Sounds to commercial blue cod fishers for the first time on Thursday.

The season closure will run until December 20. 

Fisherman Kelly Aldridge with a blue cod pot.
SUPPLIED

Fisherman Kelly Aldridge with a blue cod pot.

Fisherman Kelly Aldridge said the ban meant he could not fish in an area which comprised 85 per cent of his fishing ground, in the outer Sounds.

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It was effectively putting him out of work until Christmas.

"My boat's not big enough to travel further afield," he said. 

Commercial fishermen could normally catch blue cod in the Sounds all year, while the area was closed to recreational fishers from September 1 to December 20.

The legislation change was announced by Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy in October last year. 

Aldridge said the blue cod pots he used allowed any blue cod under the minimum size limit of 33cm to escape unharmed. 

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"We're not allowed to set a blue cod pot in the area - but a crayfish pot will catch blue cod. 

"I've seen crayfish pots come up with half-a-dozen blue cod." 

Aldridge said he had seen scientists carrying out research in the inner Sounds, but it did not make sense for the closure to be applied to the outer Sounds. 

"I've never see them conducting a survey where we are fishing," he said. 

"I challenge Nathan Guy to do an actual survey in this area where we fish.

"My boat's free, I'm out of work for four months. I'd do it." 

The handful of commercial fishermen operating in the area did not fish the inner Sounds because there were not enough blue cod there to sustain their business, Aldridge said. 

He had spoken to Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith about the situation, but Smith told him to go to Work and Income, Aldridge said. 

D'Urville Island fisherman Lindsay Elkington said he thought the ban was a "prelude" to the recreational fishing park the government wanted to see in the Marlborough Sounds. 

He was expecting to lose between 20 and 25 per cent of his income this year, due to the ban.

If the fishing park was put in place he and the other commercial fishing operator on the island would probably have to leave.

They were both water taxi operators, so it would affect the other local residents, he said. 

"[They're] going to struggle to get on and off the island." 

While there had been some consultation with industry representatives last year, there had been no contact between the ministry and the fishermen themselves, he said. 

"There are not many of us here that they need to consider, therefore they are not considering us." 

Blue Cod Management Group chairman Eric Jorgensen said he could understand the frustrations of the commercial fishermen, because the blue cod fishery was more healthy in the outer Sounds than it was in the inner Sounds. 

However, consultation last year indicated Marlborough people wanted the same rules for recreational and commercial fishers. 

Two public meetings run by the group were very well-attended and ministry officials were there for people to speak to, Jorgensen said. 

He was surprised anyone would say there was a lack of consultation. 

Smith said the ban was unfortunate for commercial fishermen, but he advised those affected to make submissions at the time. 

Jorgensen said it was important to protect blue cod during the spawning season, particularly since there was a skewed female-to-male ration of cod in the Sounds. 

Commercial fishers could still operate west of d'Urville Island, but if all of the fishermen tried to catch fish in that area they would "destroy" the blue cod population, Aldridge said. 

Last year Southern Inshore Fisheries Management chairman Doug Saunders-Loder said commercial fishing had "no significant impact" on blue cod populations in the Marlborough Sounds.

"Put simply, [the rules] are a compromise based around the fact that the management of the blue cod fishery needs collaboration.

"In the interests of the management of the blue cod fishery, everyone has to play their part."

Submissions on the Marlborough Sounds recreational fishing park proposal closed in March.

Thousands of submissions were received in relation to the proposal. The government's response is expected by the end of the year.

 - The Marlborough Express

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