The Marlborough Recreational Fishers Association (MRFA) wants a closed scallop season to stem the downward spiral of the New Zealand fishery.
In a submission to the Ministry of Primary Industries, MRFA Chairman Peter Watson said the association considered an undisturbed season would enable greater breeding and recruitment and help the population on the road to recovery, as well as offering the opportunity for further investigations into the biology of the scallop.
“Accurate management can only be carried out by a full knowledge of the population dynamics. It would be of great interest to know more about scallops' feeding habits, mobility of the adults and larval dispersion,” he said.
He said that in around 2000 the scallop fishery first showed marked declines with the Tasman and Golden Bay scallop beds. However, little notice was taken and those beds reached a stage of initial collapse. Now with the decline in Tasman and Golden Bays, additional pressure had come on the Marlborough Sounds stocks.
“Basically, the overall scallop population in the Sounds is in free fall,” said Watson.
Over the past 15 years, the overall trend in estimated numbers had followed almost exactly an "exponential decay curve,” he said.
Watson said nothing was to be gained by attempting to apportion blame for this state of affairs, since it is the result of a number of stress factors such as commercial overfishing, alteration of the seabed by runoff and sedimentation, disturbance of the sea floor by dredging, death of immature scallops caught and returned, and probably some disease.
“MRFA is pleased that local iwi support a closure to speed up recovery and then install a good management regime,” he said.
The MRFA submission said the ministry and minister were obliged by law to regulate the exploitation of a marine resource in a way that was sustainable for future generations to enjoy.
“It is clear that the rapid decline in the commercial landed meat weight of scallops shows that this is not occurring. The minister is failing in his duty of care if he does not notice the rapid decline in scallop numbers and infer from them that if the fishing effort continues at its present level there will be no scallops left in SCA7 within two or three years.”
In addition, MRFA’s submission called for a formally constituted management team consisting of representatives of the three interested user groups – commercial, recreational and customary – which could meet as required under the auspices of the ministry, each group acknowledging that it was in their mutual interest to endure the sustainability of this valuable resource.
“It is in the common interest to sustain the fishery for the future. It would also consider such technical matters as dredge design, opening and closing dates for the season, and methods of maximizing reproductive success.”