Scallop company dismisses criticism

Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company chairman Buzz Falconer has tackled a recreational fishing spokesman, calling his comments on the commercial sector "crap".

Marlborough Recreational Fishers' Association spokesman Laurie Stevenson said yesterday that commercial fishermen had "stuffed everywhere they've dredged".

"There will be no scallops for anyone," Stevenson said. He was commenting on the extension of submissions on the Ministry for Primary Industries' scallop management plan, a move some recreational fishers think resulted from pressure applied by the commercial sector.

The day before submissions were to close, the ministry issued a new option that would establish a total allowable commercial catch (TACC) of 416 tonnes, and extended the submission period for 10 days.

The previous figure has been 747 tonnes but the collapse of the scallop beds in Tasman Bay and Golden Bay has reduced catches to far below that level - just 43 tonnes last season, all from the Marlborough Sounds.

Until the submission extension, which ended on Monday, the ministry had been proposing the option of a commercial limit of 46 tonnes, with an additional 80 tonnes set aside 50-50 for recreational and Maori catches.

Falconer confirmed that the scallop company, which represents the 32 quota holders who operate the 13 boats still harvesting scallops, had sought the extension, along with others.

But the extra time was available to all, he said, and the company remained firmly committed to sustainable fishing. It was "completely wrong" to say that recreational and commercial scallop fishers were at loggerheads, Falconer said.

"We do not have ill-will or bad feeling with amateurs - in fact, we have an amateur representative on our board, with full voting rights.

"We manage the fishery for the benefit of all, under a memorandum of understanding issued by MPI, in consultation with all sectors."

Falconer said recreational fishers had access to all areas between July 15 and February 14 every year, while the commercial season was only a few weeks long. The commercial sector did not dredge in Croisilles Harbour, a popular recreational scalloping area, and had not taken any scallops from Tasman Bay or Golden Bay for several years, he said.

The sector carefully managed its take from the scallop beds in the Marlborough Sounds to ensure their sustainability, he said. These included Ketu Bay - the biggest area of concern for amateurs last season - Guard's Bank and Ship Cove.

Contrary to what Stevenson suggested, scallops had been processed in Picton by the Nelson Ranger Fishing Company every year since the scallop company was formed 19 years ago, Falconer said. Four of the 13 boats had fished for Nelson Ranger during the past season.

He said the scallop population had been affected by events outside the company's control, including a once-in-100 year flood in Golden Bay that had severely silted the seabed, and the deaths of scallops, mussels, oysters and whelks in Tasman Bay in 2004 due to an uncertain cause or causes.

"We manage the fishery extremely well given the circumstances beyond our control."

This year there had been a good spat catch in Golden Bay, he said, and spat released last year had a good survival rate.

There were "very good scallops" in part of Tasman Bay, with positive signs of young scallops also showing up.

Saying that there would be no scallops anywhere the commercial boats had dredged was "utter crap", Falconer said.

Challenger had managed all the scallop "hot spots" responsibly, for all users of the fishery, and had continued to catch and distribute scallop spat for the benefit of all. "There are continued healthy stocks in all these hot spots. The Sounds is a good example of how we can manage the fishery and keep the beds.

"All those hot spots have still got scallops and in all possibility will be fished to a certain tonnage this year."

In a note about the submission extension, the ministry said the new 416-tonne option recognised that a more modest reduction in the 747-tonne TACC might better meet the purposes of the Fisheries Act as it began to lower the total to recent catch levels, "having regard to socio-economic factors".

In a statement yesterday, Challenger's legal adviser, Tony Stallard, said that since 1989 the company had been actively involved in a series of sophisticated management functions provided in terms of a memorandum of understanding with the Crown.

It was no fault of scallop fishers or the company that there had been a drop in catches, Stallard said. There had been significant environmental, runoff and biosecurity issues, "and it is simply provocative to suggest they have ‘stuffed everywhere they have dredged.' "