Ban scallop fishing to renew depleted beds

Last updated 12:37 26/06/2014

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OPINION: If oysters are the king of shellfish then scallops are the queen - and to many, the reigning monarch at that.

Their melt-in-the-mouth delicacy makes them a favourite of chefs and foodies everywhere, and the top of the south has long been renowned as a key source.

Another meaning of "delicate" also adds weight to the molluscs' importance. Given their declining numbers over the past few decades it is easy to see them as a canary in the mines for our coastal environment.

Older Nelsonians will well recall the boom times in the 1970s when every Tom, Dick and Mary (and their mates) were plundering Tasman Bay throughout the season, dredging up boatloads of scallops to go alongside the huge volumes taken by the commercial fleet.

The inevitable bust followed the boom, and while there was a brief resurgence sparked by commercial seeding fishermen, the latest decline started in the late 1990s and continues today.

Sadly, Tasman and Golden Bay are set to remain closed again this season to commercial boats and a reduced quota is being recommended by the industry for specified grounds in the Marlborough Sounds.

On the positive side there have been signs of the shellfish beginning to recover in deeper parts of Tasman Bay and slightly healthier stocks in Golden Bay.

The industry is urging for a voluntary closure of these two bays to recreational boaties. Such a move would not be popular.

There is a huge sense of entitlement among many boat-owners. Not all have shown willingness to act responsibly in the past, and a goldrush mentality can sometimes seem to apply.

Any decisions for the upcoming season must be signed off by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy. With some fledgling signs of a recovery in the two bays, it would be somewhere between risky and foolish to rely on a voluntary closure. The fishery is too important to leave to chance and gentlemen's agreements.

Guy should have the courage to act strongly in this area and officially and formally close the bays this year. One law for all, regardless of the potential fallout from local boaties.

If that is too much for a government minister to stomach in an election year, why not ban dredges and set a restrictive daily limit for those so committed to hunter-gathering of scallops that they would be prepared to dive for them? At least that would prevent digging up the seabed and leave undisturbed those shellfish which are obviously undersized. At the very least the more-than-generous recreational limit of 50 could be halved - and how about returning the size limit to 100mm rather than the present 90mm?

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The decline in our scallop stocks is not only the fault of over-fishing. Main culprits are the forestry industry and other forms of land development which have led to the decline of the marine environment. However, scallop-lovers can and should play their part in encouraging the recovery of this precious and delicate resource.

- The Nelson Mail

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