Crayfish stock - fears for health

Reports of a slow summer finding crayfish off the Coromandel Peninsula and a proposal to reduce the commercial catch in the area has some divers speculating about the health of the lobster fishery.

Both charter operators and commercial fishermen spoken to by the Waikato Times this week have said they have found fewer crayfish off the peninsula this summer.

But opinions are split on the cause, with some blaming weather conditions and a cold current, and others saying the fishery's health has worsened.

Gary Stirling, owner of Whitianga-based Black Magic Charters, said finding good-sized crayfish was harder this year.

"I think that there are too many crayfish pots around. I think really, over the past couple of years, it has gotten worse - even on the outer islands."

Fellow Whitianga-based operator John Ellwood, owner of Marine Adventures, said things had been a "little bit tough", but it also depended on the quality of the diver.

"Some of them can't catch crayfish to save themselves."

But it hasn't been an easy ride for commercial operators, either.

Mark Wheeler, who is director of Whitianga-based processing company The Lobster Co, said the CRA 2 area, between the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty, was 2.5 tonnes down on the previous year at the end of December.

He said the fishing had been slower than previous years, but his company was "on track" to catch its quota by March 31.

Weather conditions and the cold water current, which made crayfish less active, could both have played a part, he said.

However, consultation on the management and catch limit in the CRA 2 rock lobster fishery is under review and, in two of three options tabled, the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) is proposed to take a hit.

Although the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) considers the health of the stock to be above sustainable yield, indicators suggest it has been declining since 2007, the consultation document said.

Daryl Sykes, executive officer and research programme manager at the New Zealand Rock Lobster Industry Council, said there was an acknowledgement that the CRA 2 rock lobster fishery could be better.

He said although MPI has deemed the stock to be sustainable at the current rate of removal, the industry was not comfortable with the estimate.

Under the two options that propose to clip the commercial catch, there is no suggestion that customary or recreational catch should be reduced.

The third option, which is not favoured by the stakeholder group advising the ministry in the review, is to retain the current catch.

"There's nothing in the research that there is any hint at all of imminent collapse in the stock," Mr Sykes said.

"I think you just have those cyclical variations in abundance and availability and this summer has not been a great summer for diving and potting rock lobster." 

Waikato Times