Sounds key in scallop big harvest

This year's commercial scallop harvest concentrates on the Marlborough Sounds again.

But a survey shows scallop numbers are up throughout the top of the south, the recreational fishing representative on the scallop fishing company board says.

Geoff Rowling, the sole recreational fishing representative on the Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company's 11-strong board, said yesterday the company was to present a harvest plan for this year's season to a meeting of recreational fishing interests last night and to conservation groups and the public tonight.

Challenger represents the 32 quota holders who operate the harvesting boats.

The proposal was to take 35 tonnes of scallops from the Marlborough Sounds. This is down from last year's 43 tonnes.

Rowling said that would include 6 tonnes from Queen Charlotte Sound near Long Island, 8.5 tonnes off Guard's Bank, and 7 tonnes from Ketu Bay in Pelorus Sound.

The numbers were down and he agreed the economics of harvesting were questionable. It was likely to be a small fleet of maybe 10 boats harvesting.

"They're not proposing to charge out and search out every other scallop . . . However, 35 tonnes of scallops is still a pretty big pile of scallops."

He did not expect recreational fishers to support the harvest proposal at last night's meeting.

The Ministry for Primary Industries says the proposal would go out for consultation for about three weeks. The shellfish working group was expected to hold a briefing next week to go through the scientific survey on the number of scallops in the top of the South Island fishery. That meeting was postponed from last week.

Rowling said that "on the bright side", the survey showed "quite big" numbers of scallops.

But while the numbers had increased, the quality of the scallops had declined.

The survey also showed good recruitment of scallops at Dieffenbach Point, with a lot of young scallops.

Areas that had been harvested in the past two and three years had young scallops present, according to the survey, Rowling said. That showed there was settlement of new scallops in the harvested area.

There was also a good population growing in Golden Bay, Rowling said. They were not at commercial harvest levels, but there appeared to be good spread of breeding stock.

"We're starting to see some scallops on the ground in both Tasman and Golden Bays . . . Fingers crossed for the next couple of years."

Both Tasman and Golden Bays have been closed for commercial harvesting after populations in both bays collapsed. Challenger has been seeding the bays, and Rowling said it seemed that might have been successful this year.

The company proposed to do more this year, he said.

"It's good for everyone to get Tasman and Golden Bays up to healthy populations of scallops. It relieves the pressure on the Marlborough Sounds that Marlborough people feel. There is no desire by anyone in this fishery to see it go down the gurgler."

The Marlborough Express