New scallop catch limit called 'crazy'

Nelson commercial and recreational scallop fishers have greeted the new top of the south scallop catch limit with approval, but a Marlborough recreational spokesman says it is "crazy".

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy yesterday set the total allowable catch at 520 tonnes, more than 300 tonnes lower than the longstanding limit.

The change comes during a slump in the fishery, with last year's commercial take, set by the Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company under an agreement with the ministry, limited to 46 tonnes.

Challenger hasn't fished Tasman Bay since 2006 or Golden Bay since 2010, previously highly productive for both commercial and recreational scalloping but both subject to a population collapse.

In a letter to stakeholders announcing his decision, Mr Guy said he was aware the scallop fishery was at a low level, with the commercial catch coming from only the Marlborough Sounds.

"I consider that a reduced commercial catch limit of 400 tonnes takes into account the future enhancement potential of the fishery while balancing the sustainability risk and utilisation opportunity. This is the first step in stimulating a rebuild of abundance in the fishery."

The minister initially had two options before him. The ministry had effectively ruled out the status quo option allowing the commercial sector to take 747 tonnes, saying it was unsustainable.

The alternative allowed a commercial take of 46 tonnes. However, the day before the closing date, the ministry introduced a third option permitting commercial fishermen to take 400 tonnes, and extended the submissions period by a week. It is this option the minister has gone with.

Challenger chairman Buzz Falconer said it was a ministry decision and the company was "not unhappy with it".

Submissions had ranged from seeking a zero take to the 747-tonne status quo, and the minister had made a fair decision.

Challenger hoped to carry out a full top of the south biomass survey in May but if insufficient finance was available it would still survey the Sounds and parts of Tasman and Golden bays.

He didn't anticipate that this year's limit would be much different from last year's, he said.

New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council president Geoff Rowling said the minister had made a pragmatic decision which allowed for the rebuild of the scallop population.

"It certainly gives some encouragement to industry to continue with enhancement of the fishery for the good of everyone." Challenger's management system ruled out unconstrained commercial fishing, Mr Rowling said, and ahead of the survey he too felt this year's catch limit wouldn't be much different from last year.

"There have been a few pockets of scallops identified in Tasman and Golden bays but it may be that the company might choose to leave those in the water to improve the sustainability of the fishery."

Mr Rowling represents recreational fishers on the Challenger board and said the company would need to give "really serious consideration" to its catch plan for the Sounds in the coming year. "The thing is at breaking point."

Marlborough Recreational Fishing Association president Laurie Stevenson said Mr Guy's decision was disappointing but not surprising. "It's pretty pointless making the quota 400 tonnes when they can't even scrape up 50 tonnes. They haven't had that much since the 2002-03 fishing season. It's not going to be 400 tonnes as long as their backsides point south. It's crazy."

He wanted to be optimistic, he said, and he genuinely hoped the scallop fishery could be built up again and get to the stage where commercial fishermen could "go out every year and get 400 tonnes without even thinking about it".

The recreational scallop season runs from July 15 until February 14, while the commercial season, which lasts only a few weeks, tends to be between August and December.

The Nelson Mail