Voluntary scallop closure sought

The commercial scallop industry in the top of the south is lobbying for voluntary closure of Tasman and Golden bays to extend to the recreational sector.

Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company contractor Mitch Campbell told a public meeting in Nelson last night there were encouraging signs in the scallop population in both bays, formerly the source of hundreds of tonnes of scallops annually.

He said Golden Bay surveys showed a slight increase in numbers and "some good signs for the future if Mother Nature plays the game". In Tasman Bay, where in 2012 basically no scallops were to be found, "I'm happy to report that anywhere outside 25 metres [depth] there are good signs of scallops. That's the first time the survey boat has seen them there for 10 years."

The company, which brings together the 32 scallop quota holders, is once again proposing to leave the two bays alone and to take 35 tonnes of scallop meat from the Marlborough Sounds - eight tonnes fewer than last year and 13 tonnes fewer than in 2012.

Challenger, operating under a memorandum of understanding with the Primary Industries Ministry, will make its final decisions on July 11, and Campbell said it would take account of submissions from recreational scallopers and conservation groups, with a deadline of July 3. Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has to sign off the decisions before they take effect.

It is expected that the fleet will be slightly smaller than last year's 10 boats, which caught the total in a few weeks.

Enhancement by collecting spat and distributing it was no longer being done on a commercial scale in Tasman and Golden Bays but the company still carried it out, more as "a sustainability tool" to boost the biomass in each bay, Campbell said.

Scallops were surviving and growing in deeper parts of Tasman Bay but spat close in died, probably affected by suffocating river plumes after flooding, and Challenger would focus on seeding in "clean areas only".

"The basic hypothesis in my mind, anything that's within cooee of the river mouths is not going to stand a chance".

He said Challenger always took a conservative harvest approach and this year was proposing seven tonnes from Ketu Bay in Pelorus Sound, 8.5 tonne from Guard's Bank, 2 tonne from Forsyth Bay, 6 tonne from the Long Island part of Queen Charlotte Sound and 1 tonne from the Bay of Many Coves - the latter drawing most opposition at Monday's meeting with recreational representatives..

It would be urging the minister to extend the industry's closures to also cover recreational scallopers, who could easily use their GPS technology to mark scallop spots and deplete them before the fishery had a chance to rebuild.

"It's important that areas that are seeded are closed to all dredging."

Asked about the future for scallops in Tasman and Golden bays, Campbell said he used to be an optimist but had been waiting for a long time.

"The scallop fishery is probably the most variable in the world. The best thing we can do is rest it, not touch it. Until Mother Nature decides, nothing's going to happen. It's just a waiting game."

Cissy Bay resident and scallop dredge manufacturer Kevin Mead said he believed the problem of slow scallop growth in parts of the inner Sounds was because "there's no bloody food left in the water. Even the council recognise now there's too many [mussel] farms".

Faced with unpopular blue cod regulations and now feeling that the scallop beds were threatened, people were getting angry and small tourism businesses were "caving in", Mead said.

"It's having a hell of a bad effect on people in the Marlborough Sounds, and nobody seems to care."

Submissions on the scallop fishery can be emailed to mitch.kiwi@gmail.com

The Nelson Mail