New Zealand to close scallop fishery, review dredging’s impact on rock lobster and sea urchin

Published on
February 13, 2023
Scallops caught in New Zealand's Coromandel region.

The scallop fishery in New Zealand’s Coromandel area will close after a survey showed a significant local decline in abundance.

New Zealand Minister of Oceans and Fisheries David Parker announced the closure the fishery in December 2022, citing the need for emergency measures to be taken to address a “serious decline in numbers” of scallops in the Coromandel on New Zealand’s North Island.

“Immediate action is required to provide the best chance of recovery,” Parker said. “This kind of measure is rarely used, and I do not invoke it lightly as it bypasses public consultation. I consider that in this case, given the seriousness of the situation, it is necessary to protect these scallop beds and ensure the recovery of the wider fishery.”

There were only two remaining scallop-fishing zones open to fishing in the Coromandel after the New Zealand government made initial closures in March 2022, but the fishery is now fully closed to all fishing, including recreational and subsistence fishing. Parker attributed the decline in local scallop populations to sedimentation from land activities, deteriorating water quality, and environmental conditions likely linked to climate change.

“The closure will protect scallops and their habitats from fishing while officials undertake a full review of the Coromandel fishery,” he said. “I have put an emergency measure in place now, because there can be more fishing in the summer season, which may place further pressure on the beds.”

The Coromandel scallop fishery is now under a full review by Fisheries New Zealand, with a longer term closure proposed, Parker said. And several other fisheries are also under review as part of Fisheries New Zealand’s regular annual sustainability reviews, including the commercial Tory Channel kina (sea urchin) North Island pāua (abalone), and Northland spiny red rock lobster fisheries. Each is facing proposed cuts to its total allowable catch.

New Zealand-based NGO Environmental Defence Society has called for Fisheries New Zealand to ban dredging in those fisheries as a means of protecting marine habitat.

“Fisheries NZ is now proposing a permanent closure of the scallop fishery, which is good thing,” it said in a press release. “However, EDS has urged the minister to clearly signal that, if the fishery is ever to open again, dredging methods will prohibited. This would give the industry a clear signal that dredging will not be acceptable in the future, and ensure harvesters have ample time to adapt to new methods while the stock hopefully recovers.

EDS is calling for a 50 percent reduction in the Northland rock lobster fishery, maximum sizes for harvestable crayfish, and permanent area-based restrictions to protect kelp forest habitat that is currently being threatened by a recent boom in local populations of kina, or sea urchin, which are having a deleterious impact on local marine flora.

“The widespread loss of kelp forest habitat along the Northland coast is highly concerning. It represents a significant threat to the rock lobster stock as well as to broader marine biodiversity. Kelp is the foundation of our marine forests which support a myriad of creatures. It also sequesters carbon and fuels marine food webs and productivity,” EDS Policy Director Raewyn Peart said. “In a climate changing world, we need to be reducing our fishing impacts on the marine area.”

Photo courtesy of Gartland/Shutterstock

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