Scallop war of words over 'jewel in crown'

Recreational and commercial scallop fishermen are at loggerheads over the proposed take in the coming season, which is going to hit the biggest and best recreational scalloping bay left in the Marlborough Sounds.

The Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company had its annual meeting on Friday and decided that this year it would take 48 tonnes, five tonnes less than last year.

It intends to take up to 25 tonnes from Ketu Bay in Pelorus Sound, a highly popular source of scallops for amateurs and, along with Okiwi Bay, one of the last easily reached and reliable spots.

Company chairman Buzz Falconer said there was a gentlemen's agreement that the commercial boats would fish Ketu Bay only once every three years, but the company had a right to fish it every year if it wanted to.

"It's time the world realised this. I'm sick and tired of looking after some of these loopies and putting up with their idiosyncrasies."

There was even a group lobbying for the fishermen to stay out of one bay because of the shag population there, he said.

Ketu Bay hadn't been fished for three years and there was an abundant scallop population. The rest of the commercial take, most of which goes to Talley's, would come from Forsyth Bay, Guards Bank, Ship Cove and "bits and pieces all around the place".

There would be no commercial catch in Waitata, Horseshoe or Richmond bays in Pelorus Sound and that should provide good fishing for amateurs, with "excellent signs of young scallops".

Mr Falconer said there would be only a dozen commercial boats taking scallops and the season would be short - possibly only days.

Overall, the annual survey showed better biomass than last year. "That shows our management scheme is working well."

Two positive notes were that live scallops were found in Tasman Bay for the first time in six years and the scallop spat seeded in Golden Bay during the year was surviving.

Challenger Scallop and Dredge Oyster Recreational Advisory Group chairman Geoff Rowling said the Ketu Bay move marked the first time the commercial and recreational groups hadn't been able to "come to an agreed position" on the catch.

Ketu Bay was visited by boats from Havelock, Tennyson Inlet, Portage and French Pass, was a regular destination for cruising boats and was seen as "the jewel in the crown" by amateurs.

"It's become the go-to place, easily identifiable and sheltered from most wind conditions. We don't want to see it nuked once every three years."

Mr Rowling said recreational scallopers were to some extent "at the company's mercy".

"Under the letter of the law, there's nothing to stop them from going there every year. They could do that, but I would suggest that kind of approach would meet large amounts of resistance that might well result in Ketu being closed to commercial fishing forever."

Pelorus Boating Club commodore Michael Connolly said the large group was "very disappointed" that Ketu Bay was to be commercially fished.

The last time this had happened, the boats had pulled out before the planned tonnage had been reached because the scientific estimate had been wrong.

"Given the state of the fishery, we think it is crazy to go into the last place where there are any decent scallops and fish it down to that level."

With the collapse of the scallop fishery in Tasman Bay and Golden Bay, increasing pressure has come on to the Sounds and Okiwi Bay, which isn't fished commercially but has been targeted by many more amateurs each year.

In the 1990s, the commercial harvest was regularly over 400 tonnes, generating up to $25 million in exports. The sudden collapse of the Tasman Bay and Golden Bay beds has not been explained, but one suggestion is a combination of sedimentation causing a soft sea floor, pollution caused by runoff and the effects of dredging.

The amateur season starts next week and runs until February.

The Nelson Mail