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Coromandel community unites for sustainable fisheries: A call to action

Nabbing poachers while they’re in the act can be exhilarating but risky. Last month several Pauanui residents stopped three people suspected of illegally taking 60 undersized pāua. After calls to 0800 4 POACHER, Fisheries Compliance staff arrived to apprehend the suspects. Officials appreciate the community’s involvement but urge caution, encouraging people to record details of potential offenders and stay safe.
 |  Warren Maher  | 

Warren Maher, Tairua-Pauanui Sports Fishing Club spokesperson

While I am not endorsing this behaviour, it is another example of Coromandel residents working together to protect our fisheries and little slice of paradise.

Over the years, significant community effort has been invested into protecting scallops, pink maomao and various other fin-fish. This commitment by the community has undoubtedly contributed to protecting the marine environment and sea life around the Coromandel. Without this proactive engagement we may not have the same fishery we enjoy today.

For example, in 2020 the Tairua-Pauanui Sports Fishing Club were proud to stand alongside other Coromandel clubs in showing their support for the Ngāti Hei rāhui to protect the OpitoBay scallop beds. This was to help scallop numbers rebuild, and so destructive scallop dredging could be phased out.

Our members worked alongside Dive Zone Whitianga, the Opito Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association, local clubs, and national organisations including the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council, New Zealand Underwater, New Zealand Angling & Casting, and LegaSea, to encourage compliance with the rāhui until a more formal closure could be applied to scallops.

In 2021, Ngāti Hei received Ministerial approval for a 2-year temporary closure to all scallop harvesting from their entire rohe of 2413 square kilometres on the eastern Coromandel coast.  After several alarming scallop abundance survey results, the Minister closed the entire scallop fishery around the Coromandel, Hauraki Gulf and Northland in 2023.

The rāhui and subsequent closure was a win for the community. In the absence of effective fisheries management, the community worked together to intervene, to help restore the depleted scallop numbers.

Then conflict arose again in Tairua in mid-2021, when hundreds of pink maomao were being landed due to people taking advantage that no daily bag limits applied. Fisheries Officers were powerless to respond because the regulations had not kept pace with changing fishing patterns.

Once again, a lack of action by the government saw the community rally to protect the fisheries. Ngāti Hei stepped in again to quell the growing unrest. Matua Joe Davis placed a rāhui on any fishing for pink maomao within their rohe moana (customary area). This was a stop-gap measure until the regulations could catch up. Because of the collective outcry, in less than a year the regulations changed to include pink maomao in the combined recreational daily bag limit.

“As recreational fishers we want to do our bit to try and protect our oceans and promote sustainable harvest levels”, said President of the Tairua-Pauanui Sports Fishing Club Tim Evans.

“On the one hand it’s encouraging that the community is actively engaged in conserving fish for the benefit of future generations. On the other hand, it’s disappointing that once again the community is forced to react to a failing quota management system which allows bulk harvesting and destructive fishing methods to deplete our fish and scallops. This drives tourists away, which ultimately impacts on the social, economic, and cultural wellbeing of all Coromandel residents and businesses.”

Bottom trawling, Danish and purse seining are all impacting on life under, on, and above the sea. Some big, difficult decisions need to be made about how to reverse the degradation of our oceans. Not everyone is convinced that there is a solution available under the quota management system, given that it is the very system that has allowed this behaviour in the first place.

A bright light on the horizon is the preliminary discussions to bring a wide range of community interests and Ngāti Hei together to develop a more formal management plan. Their expansive rohe includes Whakahau/ Slipper Island, Alderman Islands, Ahuahu Great Mercury Island and Repanga Cuvier Island. This plan could provide a real pathway towards restoring depleted fish and shellfish populations around the Coromandel coast. And, after their years of input and vigilance, the people of Coromandel can rightly expect Fisheries New Zealand and the Waikato Regional Council to do their bit for the community.

“Ngāti Hei are grateful when those in the wider community respect the cultural mechanisms utilised by the iwi to manage their fisheries. As kaitiaki, protecting and enhancing the mauri of the rohe, to sustain provision for future generations, is intrinsically beneficial to all”, commented Peter Matai Johnston.

In the meantime, let’s all minimise our impact on the environment by reducing the amount of rubbish we produce, and being more careful about what we pour down the drain. Finally, enjoy the Autumn fishing and share those fish heads and frames with people in your community who revere them.