Bluff oyster quota increased by 2 million
Bluff oystermen will be able to harvest 2 million more oysters this season after the industry's quota was formally increased.
A self-regulated limit of 9.53 million oysters will be bumped up to 11.5 million for the 2012 season after discussions between the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, the Primary Industries Ministry, oyster boat skippers and quota owners.
Bluff Oyster Management Company spokesman Graeme Wright said scientific results and evidence provided by oystermen had pointed to a growth in the Foveaux Strait oyster population.
"A formal decision has been made to unshelve 2 million oysters and increase the industry-set quota to 11.5 million oysters," Mr Wright said.
"This is still well below the 14.95 million total allowable commercial catch [TACC] limit set by the government. At present, the industry has been harvesting about 64 per cent of its allowed quota and the increase will see that figure rise to 77 per cent."
The shellfish disease bonamia was still present in the oyster population but running at levels that were not inhibiting population growth, Mr Wright said.
Direct Fish and Oyster co-owner Willie Calder said the increase, while good news for the fishery, was a modest one.
"It's a positive sign but a cautious raise in the quota and one that will be spread across the whole fleet, so it would be good to raise it more," he said.
"Back in the 80s, the industry was harvesting around 82 million oysters, so there is still a long way to go."
The Bluff oyster fishery had become an adaptive one and it was not possible to predict whether the increase would be temporary or continue to increase each year, Mr Wright said.
"Science is saying the fishery is recovering but bonamia is still present, so each season survey work has to be done to inform the industry's decision," he said.
"We can't let our guard down."
The domestic market makes up 98 per cent of the current demand for Bluff oysters, with no change expected with the rise in the self-regulated quota, Mr Wright said.
MPI director fisheries management James Stevenson-Wallace said no change was proposed to the TACC quota and the Bluff Oyster Management Company's decision to increase its catch within the existing quota was an industry decision.
- The Southland Times