Fishing industry titan Peter Talley has jumped into the scalloping debate, urging the Government to ban or limit recreational scalloping in Tasman Bay and Golden Bay to allow the shellfish numbers to recover.
Nelson and Motueka-based Talley's holds 40 per cent of the scallop quota. The take has been severely restricted by the collapse of the formerly highly productive Tasman and Golden bays scallop populations, restricting the commercial fleet to the remaining beds in the Marlborough Sounds.
This in turn has caused criticism from recreational scallopers who fear that their last fishing grounds will be irreparably harmed by commercial dredging, a suggestion that the Challenger Scallop Enhancement Co emphatically rejects.
The company has said that there are encouraging signs of a rebound in both Tasman and Golden bays, where the commercial sector has not fished since 2005 and 2010 respectively, and has continued to re-seed scallop spat.
In a submission to the Ministry for Primary Industries, Mr Talley said if there was a reluctance to reduce the recreational take in an election year, a solution could be to leave the Marlborough Sounds recreational limit at 50 but reduce the take in Golden and Tasman bays to 40 with a 240 per boat limit.
It was "entirely manageable" to have different rules within a single fishery area, he said, using the Marlborough Sounds blue cod fishery as an example where Sounds fish have a different size limit to Tasman Bay fish.
Mr Talley said positive signs of stock rebuilding was largely as a result of the industry's re-seeding programme. However, both areas could be fished by recreational fishermen, who did not have the same restrictions as commercial fishermen and could fish seeded scallops first.
"The solution is to also exclude recreational fishing from the areas closed for rotational re-seeding programmes. This would be an achievable objective especially if we designated some inshore areas as recreational access only. This would be a fair trade-off between the commercial user and the recreational sector especially in the knowledge the enhancement scheme is funded 100 per cent by the commercial sector."
The catch levels in the scallop fishery are to be set by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy by the end of this month.
Meanwhile, Challenger Recreational Scallop and Dredge Oyster Advisory Group chairman Geoff Rowling said commercial and recreational scallop fishers had gone through "a rough patch" but the relationship generally worked well.
"We need to be really careful that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," he told the Nelson Mail yesterday.
Mr Rowling, also president of the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council, represents the recreational sector on the Challenger Scallop Enhancement Co board, the body that manages the Nelson-Marlborough scallop fishery under a memorandum of agreement with the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Last week Marlborough Recreational Fishers' Association spokesman Laurie Stevenson hit out at the company's Sounds harvest, saying the commercial boats had "stuffed everywhere they've dredged" and that there would be "no scallops for anyone" if proposed quota changes went ahead.
This prompted Challenger chairman Buzz Falconer to call Mr Stevenson's claims "utter crap". He said the company was committed to sustainable harvest and managed the scallop beds for the benefit of all.
Yesterday Mr Rowling said the Marlborough comments had to be seen in the context of the pressure the recreational sector had been under in the Sounds, with a loss of access to the blue cod fishery for extended times and nothing but rhetoric from the decision-makers in response to their concerns.
There was also a failure to agree on the commercial take last year from Ketu Bay, the "jewel in the crown" for recreational scallopers in Pelorus Sound, though the company did scale back its harvest plans in light of public concern.
However, when Challenger was successful in its operations, "there are generally plenty of scallops available for public use".
"The interests of everybody are served by the fishery being in good heart."
He said commercial catch rates in Queen Charlotte Sound had been reducing over the past few years by as much as 50 per cent a year. That should concern everyone, and he believed the commercial boats should stay out for "a year or two" to allow its recovery.
But although Ketu Bay had been commercially harvested last year recreational catches had remained strong right through to the season's end in February.
The scaled-back commercial take from Ketu "would indicate the health of the fishery was pretty near the top of the company's mind", Mr Rowling said, even though quota owners had been pushing "quite hard" for a return on their quota.
He too had seen encouraging signs of rejuvenation in the Tasman and Golden Bay scallop fishery.
"I'm going out on a limb and saying that the good times aren't too far away. I hope that is the case for all concerned, but I also think that the company does need to listen. People have genuine concerns about the ongoing viability."
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