Government closes all paua and rock lobster fisheries in quake-hit areas

Marooned paua after the Kaikoura seabed was lifted out of the water by the recent earthquake.
TREVOR BURKHART

Marooned paua after the Kaikoura seabed was lifted out of the water by the recent earthquake.

The Government has closed off all paua and rock lobster fisheries in southern quake-hit regions as it struggles to understand the affects of a huge uplift of coastline. 

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy made the announcement, also spelling out a $2 million package to carry out "emergency science" and investigate the full extent of the depletion of stock. 

The coast has changed dramatically at Ward Beach. The coastline has risen after the 7.8m quake, up to four metres in ...
TREVOR BURKHART

The coast has changed dramatically at Ward Beach. The coastline has risen after the 7.8m quake, up to four metres in some places, and a significant amount of juvenile paua have been killed.

"There will be an initial one-month closure of the crayfish fishery and three months for all remaining shellfish and seaweed species," he said. 

The fishing ban extended from around Lake Grassmere down to Conway River - a 100km-long stretch which ran four nautical miles wide. 

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Burkhart Fisheries co-owner Trevor Burkhart removes paua from the elevated rocks at Ward Beach, in southern Marlborough.
TREVOR BURKHART

Burkhart Fisheries co-owner Trevor Burkhart removes paua from the elevated rocks at Ward Beach, in southern Marlborough.

"It will be one month for rock lobster, while we do some science, and three months for the paua fishery."

Guy, who few into Kaikoura to inspect the damage last week, said he was concerned by the level of destruction caused to the fisheries. 

"There has been major mortality for paua and some crayfish in this area and there are concerns about the loss of habitat and what that might mean for breeding," he said. 

Over 50 per cent of the paua biomass was now above the high-tide mark, meaning it would die if it had not already. 

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"They tend to be the juveniles, or the teenagers. Mums and dads are in deeper water, but that water now is a lot more accessible.

"They are the breeders, so if we left this fishery open my concern is that without doing the science, this fishery would indeed collapse.

"Then I'd be back here within a matter of months, announcing a closure for longer term." 

While the announcement centred on paua, Guy said the impact on crayfish might not be so severe.

Crayfish could move around more easily, and get themselves back into water. 

The ban followed consultation with local stakeholders, including iwi and the commercial sector, and it extended to all forms of fishing, including recreational. 

Guy described the quake and it's effects as a "cruel blow" to fishers in the area, but it was a "shared pain", and one that could be made worse if immediate action was not taken. 

He hoped the crayfish ban could be lifted by the end of the year, which was important if industry was to have the opportunity to sell into the Chinese market. 

"Chinese New Year is a significant earner for local cray fisherman and if we determine the stock could support some extraction without adverse effects, this income would be of huge importance for the local community."

The $2m would be used to investigate the impacts of the earthquakes on the coastal environment, assess the remaining fisheries resources and develop recovery measures.

"In normal circumstances we would recover the cost of this scientific work from the commercial industry, however given the exceptional circumstances we think it's appropriate for the Government to pay for this work," he said. 

No compensation would be offered to fishers out of this package, but some could be eligible for support under the Government's small business support package announced last week.

The ban would come with extra MPI officials stationed in the affected areas, to police them.

After a stoush between officials and volunteers trying to save the paua at the weekend, Guy offered his thanks to those who did relocate some of them. 

"Those volunteers did a fantastic job, and they worked very closely with MPI on the ground. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of confusion over the weekend, as to what ocurred.

"The read out from my officials is that they actually stopped a very small group of volunteers that were busy filling their boots, and their boot, and that was unfortunate."

The scale of the job however, meant there simply were not enough people to relocate the paua in a professional way, he said. 

Paua were haemophiliac, which meant any rough movement taking them off the rocks or putting them back on was likely to cause them to bleed out. 

Of the banned stocks Crayfish was the most valuable to the Kaikoura region, with an annual harvest value around $23 million. Paua was worth between $1.2 - $1.7m.

 - Stuff

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