Dredging damages seabed

A sustainable scallop fishery is possible, but not with commercial dredging.

Last week, the Government again put the interests of the big commercial fishing companies ahead of everyday New Zealanders like you and me.

The Government announced some cuts in the amount of crayfish and scallops that big commercial fishers can take, but cuts were so limited that recreational fishers will still find it hard to achieve the small takes that are our birthright as New Zealanders.

Reduced numbers of commercial fishers are working harder and catching less than their predecessors, while recreational family fishers who should be assured of a reasonable feed first, are less and less likely to catch one.

For example, last year in the Marlborough-Nelson scallop fishery, commercial fishers landed just 43 tonnes, and yet the Government is allowing them a potential catch of 400 tonnes this coming year. That means it won't be any easier for us to catch scallops for a family feed this year. It's time we turned the tables.

I have seen the SCA 7 (Golden Bay, Tasman Bay and the Marlborough Sounds) scallop fishery first-hand over the last 30 years and seen its collapse, as the large fleet of commercial scallop dredging boats dwindled, as the habitat became more and more impacted, and scallop beds collapsed, yet the Government wants to continue dredging over the remaining few beds.

In 2001-02, scallop catches were 717 tonnes commercial and six tonnes recreational, but catches fell to a mere 6 per cent of that last year - 43 tonnes commercial and less than one tonne recreational. It has been low for years, yet the Government had maintained a quota of 747 tonnes.

The Golden Bay and Tasman Bay scallop fisheries have collapsed for years but a few areas in the Marlborough Sounds have maintained some commercial fishery, but even that is now dropping.

The stock declines mean that our commercial fishers' sons and daughters will not have a future industry unless strong action is taken. Jobs in fisheries must be based on a genuinely sustainable fishery on restored habitats, using an abundance model with a base biomass significantly above the current settings.

The argument for a quota - or total allowable commercial catch - in excess of 10 times this year's harvest is that the fishing industry wants to retain high quota in the event that enhancement techniques build stocks. This is unnecessary and allows for more excessive damaging commercial dredging on a limited Marlborough Sounds scallop fishery. This totally unsustainable approach to fisheries management favours few and is different in Northland and Coromandel, where fishers have accepted meaningful cuts and only increased catch limits under a quick review mechanism when their surveys showed a genuine boost in scallop density.

Evidence suggests that dredging, especially the large and heavy commercial dredges, significantly damage the seafloor, the very habitat that scallops and other fish species would otherwise thrive on. Dredging is a crude harvest system. It is time to stop dredging and allow any scallop catch to be by hand. Once a significant habitat and scallop stock recovery occurs, a commercial dive-based fishery may be re-established allowing perfect scallop size selection and negligible habitat damage.

The Green Party is calling for an urgent rebuild of fisheries stocks to abundance in New Zealand waters using a variety of tools, including smaller quota management areas and drops in total allowable catch.

Fishing for abundance does not allow habitat damaging fishing methods or unrealistic total allowable catch limits, but sets the scene for recreational family fishers to easily catch a feed, and allows a rebuild of a buoyant commercial fishery for local fisher families. With a healthy fish stock, everyone benefits.

Steffan Browning is the Green Party candidate in the Kaikoura electorate, which includes all of the Marlborough region. He is a sitting list MP.

The Marlborough Express