Scallop harvest decision nears

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy will be asked to make the decision on commercial scallop harvesting in the Marlborough Sounds next week.

Commercial scallop fishing spokesman Mitch Campbell said the harvesting plan cut the proposed take from 35 tonnes to 30 tonnes.

A spokesman for the minister said Guy was expecting to receive advice from the Ministry for Primary Industries about the Challenger Scallop Enhancement Co 2014-15 Harvest Plan this week.

Challenger manages the top of the South Island scallop fishery on behalf of 32 quota holders. Commercial scallop harvesting usually starts in August, but the harvesting plan must be approved by the minister first.

The minister's spokesman said Guy would consider how the plan addressed the expectations set out in his decision letter as part of the April sustainability review, and any issues raised by non-commercial stakeholders during the company's consultation process.

"He will then provide comment to the company in due course."

Challenger spokesman Mitch Campbell expressed frustration at the process.

He said there was a lot of political pressure on the ministry to deal with the failures in the scallop fishery. Those failures were low biomass and competition for access in Marlborough, he said.

"They are questioning Niwa's science and therefore we have voluntarily reduced our quota this year to 30 tonne to appease everyone.

"The minister is yet to sign it off. He is busy preparing his election bid; I say work weekends and evenings, like the rest of the country."

Challenger had originally proposed taking 35 tonnes of scallops from the Sounds, continuing the closure of Tasman and Golden bays.

Campbell said in June that Challenger would be urging the minister to extend the industry's closures to also cover recreational scallopers.

This take is down from last year's 43 tonnes. It was expected that the commercial fleet will be slightly smaller than last year's 10 boats, which caught the quota in a few weeks.

Marlborough recreational fishing representative Des Boyce said recreational fishers understood there was a difference between the ministry and the company over science.

"The ball is in the minister's court. We hope he makes the decision on the basis of science, erring on the side of caution."

Challenger had initially proposed to dredge the Bay of Many Coves for scallops, but had later dropped this in response to public outcry, Boyce said.

"Thankfully, they have chosen to back off that. They have to be complimented for that."

The Marlborough Express