Parties to have say on review of scallop beds

Recreational scallopers will be able to provide input when catch limits for the top of the south are reviewed next year, the Ministry for Primary Industries says.

The commercial and recreational sectors have previously got along well.

But the collapse of the scallop population in Tasman and Golden Bays and consequent increasing commercial pressure on the natural scallop beds in the Marlborough Sounds has caused a rift.

The Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company's announced intention to take 25 tonnes of scallop meat from the popular and accessible Ketu Bay in the coming season has brought the tension to a head.

Scallop company chairman Buzz Falconer has said that the commercial boats could fish Ketu Bay and other beds every year if they wanted to.

Recreational representative Geoff Rowling has responded that such an approach would meet stiff resistance and "might well result in Ketu being closed to commercial fishing forever".

Pelorus Boating Club commodore Michael Connolly has called the Ketu catch plan "crazy".

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy did not respond directly to questions forwarded from the Nelson Mail last week.

But ministry senior communications officer Natalie Quirke said the "sustainability settings" for the scallop fishery would be reviewed in time for the start of the next fishing year.

"This review will include public consultation and will provide an opportunity for all parties to provide input," she said.

The ministry was supporting research efforts to find out why the scallop reseeding programme had failed in Tasman and Golden Bays over the past few years, "probably due to environmental conditions in these bays".

Until then the reseeding had provided benefits to all parties, including a recreational limit of 50 per person per day, much higher than elsewhere in New Zealand.

"The fishery is at a low point, but there are some promising signs that recent reseeding has been successful."

The ministry received the latest public consultation results and commercial harvesting plan on Monday.

Ms Quirke said any area to be commercially fished for scallops required a biomass survey undertaken by Niwa, and a sustainable catch to be determined.

Under a memorandum of understanding in place since the 1990s, the enhancement company manages the southern scallop fishery with the Government setting sustainability and other management measures.

Starting in the 1980s, millions of tiny scallop spat were collected and seeded into Tasman and Golden Bays every year, with very good results over two decades.

It was a highly successful arrangement, netting annual exports of up to $25 million from catches of about 400 meatweight tons and a bountiful and easily accessed supply of scallops for amateur dredgers and divers until the sudden decline, which has left only relatively small scallop beds in Okiwi Bay and dotted around Pelorus and Queen Charlotte sounds.

The company set last year's commercial take at 53 tonnes, and this year's at 48.

The amateur season has just begun and continues until February 14.

The short commercial season will start around September, and involve a dozen boats.