Call to close Marlborough Sounds scallop beds

Last updated 08:02 07/03/2014

Part of the fleet of 17 scallop boats working in Queen Charlotte Sound.

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Commercial scallop fishing in the Marlborough Sounds should be closed to give stocks time to recover, the Government has been told.

A submission from the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council and its outreach association LegaSea said levels should be cut to 64 tonnes, split between recreational and customary fishermen in the Marlborough Sounds, with nothing for commercial fishermen.

The NZ Sport Fishing Council is a national sports organisation with more than 32,000 affiliated members from 55 clubs nationwide.

The Ministry for Primary Industries said it did not agree with that approach.

A spokesman said no information suggested the fishery needed to be closed for any period of time.

"Fisheries are cyclical and this one is going through a trough at the moment," the spokesman said.

"It has yet to be established whether or not this is long-term. Assessment of the fishery is ongoing. We are confident this process is robust."

The ministry was consulting on management of the top of the South Island scallop fishery, and published a discussion document, proposing two options.

One was the status quo catch level, and the other proposed a drop from 827 tonnes to 130 tonnes, to be split between commercial (46 tonnes), recreational (40 tonnes), and customary (40 tonnes), with a 4-tonne mortality allowance.

The day before that consultation closed, the ministry proposed a third option, for a total catch of 500 tonnes, to be split between commercial (416 tonnes), recreational (40 tonnes), and customary (40 tonnes), with a 4-tonne mortality allowance.

Consultation was extended for another eight days for people to comment on that.

The Sport Fishing Council said the declining scallop fishery needed to be protected for future generations and the Government needed to act conservatively.

"As such, we propose a 25 per cent reduction to the overall non-commercial allowances, from 40 to 30 tonnes, and an allowance of 4 tonnes for other sources of mortality.

"The minister is obliged to ‘allow for' all mortality associated with non-commercial use and fishing-related activities.

"Given the unknown extent of that mortality, the absence of commercial dredging under this option, and the [shortage] of information, these allowances ought to suffice."

The council said that Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy should not take the third option seriously.

It arrived late and appeared to have no meaningful basis, apart from providing some "headroom" for industry.

"It seems industry wants to hold on to quota in the event that scallops regenerate to commercially viable levels in Tasman and Golden bays," the council said.

"If this rebuild occurs and adequate science is produced confirming this regeneration, then the minister will have the opportunity to revisit management controls at that time."

The council said it was "unfathomable" that Mr Guy would make 416 tonnes available, knowing Tasman and Golden bays were closed, unleashing the commercial fleet into the Marlborough Sounds.

"The potential for disaster is very high and poses unacceptable risk."

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- The Marlborough Express


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