New quota based on abundant scallop stock

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012

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A multimillion-dollar boost to the Coromandel economy is on the cards after a massive increase to the region's commercial scallop quota was signed off.

Minister for Primary Industries David Carter approved the proposed in-season increase, which comes into effect next Friday.

The change takes the commercial catch limit from 22 tonnes to 315 tonnes and doubles the recreational limit to 15 tonnes.

The Ministry says the change could generate additional revenue of about $5m. At a retail of $60 per kilogram, the total price of the allowable commercial catch would be nearly $20m.

However, advice to Mr Carter said quota holders advised that they expect the actual catch to be closer to 150 tonnes with an additional value of approximately $2.4m.

The Coromandel scallop fishery runs from Motiti Island north to Rodney, and includes both Little Barrier and Great Barrier islands and directly employing about 100 people on the peninsula.

Whangamata Seafood partner and Coromandel Scallop Fishermen's Association chair Peter Sopp said fishing has been "real good" since the season opened on July 15.

On average, boats have dredged their capacity of scallops within two hours and 15 minutes.

"The boats are getting their catches very quickly. The condition normally fattens as you get into the season which it's doing."

Mr Carter's decision was based on advice that scallop stocks were abundant this year.

It's music to Mr Sopp's ears.

Had Mr Carter declined the increase, commercial scallop production would have ceased within a month, he said.

"He know's it's important. We've met and talked to him about it and the science is there. We're not dreaming. We knew [the abundance] was there last year and a lot of the [shell]fish are dying because we didn't get them."

Scallops are highly productive, have a maximum life-span of seven years and can move short distances, usually in the direction of prevailing currents.

As a result, stock levels can vary considerably year to year, and over small areas.

Last year's quota increase took the commercial catch limit to 50 tonnes.

This year the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research conducted its most extensive scallop survey to date and covered a large new area of the fishery located in relatively deep water in the Hauraki Gulf.

The survey estimated the start of season biomass in meat-weight to be 1380 tonnes.

Mr Sopp said the industry changed its harvesting system four years ago and they were starting to see the benefits.

The commercial fishing grounds were carved into 52 patches of sea floor and treated with a farming mentality.

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If an area starts slowing down, it's closed so scallop numbers aren't severely depleted.

Mr Sopp thinks Niwa's results are also a positive sign for recreational gatherers whose season opens on September 1.

matt.bowen@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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