Coromandel scallop fishery closed for two years

14 Sep 2021

Minister for Primary Industries, David Parker, announced on Wednesday last week that the scallop fishery along the eastern seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula will close for a period of two years following a request from Ngati Hei.

The closure came into effect on Saturday last week. The area affected is 2,413km² in size and stretches from from Anarake Point (north of New Chums Beach) to Ruahiwihiwi Point (north of Onemana) and includes the water surrounding Cuvier Island, the Mercury Islands and the Aldermen Islands.

Public consultation on the closure took place between and April and May this year. “We received more than 2,000 submissions, with the majority supporting a closure,” said Emma Taylor, MPI director of fisheries management. “The feedback from tangata whenua and the public reflects the results of recent scientific surveys, commissioned by Fisheries New Zealand. These highlight concerns around the sustainability of scallop stocks right across the northern scallop fisheries, including the east Coromandel area.

“While addressing fishing activity is part of the picture, we also know that scallops are affected by land-based impacts such as sedimentation and by changes to water quality. The closure will relieve some of the pressure while work continues by central and local government to address fishing and non-fishing related impacts.

“A large part of Opito Bay was already closed to commercial scallop harvesting, on top of seasonal restrictions for both recreational and commercial fishing. The new closure area is much larger and applies to both recreational and commercial scallop fishing. This will support scallop populations across a larger area of the coastline and is part of the overall scallop management picture that Fisheries New Zealand is currently considering.”

Ngati Hei kaumatua, Joe Davis, welcomed the closure. “Hand in hand, Maori and Pakeha, visitors and locals, we have worked to save the scallops before it was too late,” he said. “So our mokopuna will still have scallops left in the future. This was a collective effort.”

LegaSea (a not-for-profit organisation established by the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council to raise awareness of the issues affecting recreational anglers), the Opito Bay Ratepayers Association and the Tairua-Pauanui Sport Fishing Club supported Ngati Hei’s request for the closure, but are concerned about the future of the scallop beds at Omaha, Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier Island.

“We’re delighted with the [minister’s] decision,” says Sam Woodford, the LegaSea programme lead. “There has, however, been no concurrent reduction in the commercial catch limit even though the area available to fishing is now nearly 2,500km² due to the closure. We’re concerned that commercial fishers now will seek to get their 50-ton quota out of the remaining open areas and yet that limit has been uncatchable since 2013.  

“We still haven’t addressed the fundamental issue of why the scallop beds are declining, which is overfishing of brood stock and destructive fishing techniques in the Hauraki Gulf. It is important to understand there’s a stark reality to this celebration that if dredging is not banned in all the Hauraki Gulf, then Omaha, Great Barrier Island and Little Barrier will be desecrated.”

According to Chris Severne, chair of the Opito Bay Ratepayers Association, damaging bottom dredging has decimated the Coromandel scallop beds and it’s time to give the beds a “breather”. “The Opito Bay Ratepayers Association would like to thank all who have given financial and logistical support for our ‘Citizen Science’ project that identified the true dire state of the fishery,” he said.

Tairua-Pauanui Sport Fishing Club president, Warren Maher, said it’s New Zealand Sport Fishing Council policy to ban all scallop dredging across New Zealand. “We’ve already seen that dredging and overfishing of scallops has led to the closure of the Marlborough Sounds-Tasman Bay scallop fishery,” he said. “After five years that fishery has not recovered and is still closed. We could see the Coromandel scallop fishery going the same way and now we envisage the same thing happening to the scallop beds off Omaha and the Barrier.”

Joe Davis acknowledged that the closure is a win for the Coromandel, but not for the whole of the Hauraki Gulf. “Hopefully this decision will encourage mana whenua and other communities to feel emboldened and empowered to use their position of kaitiaki,” he said.

When asked to comment on the closure, Phil Clow, president of the Whitianga and Coromandel Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, said the commercial scallop fishers affected by the closure have been members of the communities they live in for a long time. “Over many years the Coromandel scallop fishery has had good seasons and bad,” he said. “Scallops have a highly variable recruitment, hence the swings in seasonal abundance. The commercial scallop fishers have recently been vilified every day of the week on social media and have now had an important part of their livelihood taken from them. Where they fish, the stock assessment wasn’t bad enough for this fishery to be closed. 

“You can’t manage a fishery on anecdotal and small-scale science, meaning the Opito Bay recreational only area independent underwater survey, along with the submissions of a large majority, being the community, versus the submissions of a small minority, being the fishers, and the various mass media hook-ups.

“Another factor affecting the commercial fishers is that they have been lumped in with an exponential recreational take which is causing spatial depletion in diver friendly areas and these diver friendly areas are often not where the commercial boats are working.”

Pictured: Ngati Hei kaumatua, Joe Davis, welcomed the closure of the scallop fishery along the Coromandel’s eastern seaboard for a two-year period.