20 Mar 2017

Fishers report crayfish stocks in bad shape

6:49 pm on 20 March 2017

People who dive or fish for crayfish think stocks off the northeast of the North Island are in bad shape, according to a survey.

Large crayfish are capable of eating quite large sea urchins, and are effective at controlling sea urchin populations.

Only 8 percent of fishers surveyed thought the the size and stock of crayfish was average or above. Photo: Paul Caiger

The poll, carried out for recreational fishing group LegaSea, questioned 822 people who dived or used cray pots between Pakiri and East Cape.

Some 79 percent rated size and availability of crayfish as one or two out of seven.

Of those who took part, 83 percent wanted the fishery temporarily closed to help it recover and 62 percent supported a total closure of the fishery for a fixed time.

LegaSea spokesperson Scott Macindoe said the results showed the Ministry for Primary Industries' quota management system lacked credibility.

"These remarkable statistics show the fishery has been decimated ... there's nothing to see."

Mr Macindoe said the system was clearly not working.

"There's nothing to catch, no craypots in the water. It's pretty dispiriting for many people who make the effort to get in the water and have a go."

Mr Macindoe said LegaSea was one of several recreational fishing groups worried not enough was being done to address the depletion and excess commercial fishing, in which hundreds of commercial craypots were set around popular islands such as Kawau and Great Barrier.

He said the activity was driven by MPI's aim of doubling primary produce exports by 2025.

"The arm wrestle of what comes first - the fishery or the economy - is being beaten by the economy at the moment."

A closure to allow crayfish numbers to recover would put companies out of business, he said. "It's a tough one but it's been coming for a very long time, ever since they awarded themselves a significant increase in allocations 17 years ago."

Issues already being addressed - MPI

An MPI spokesperson said LegaSea was referring to a fishery that was part of a wider fisheries management area known as CRA2, which extended from Waipu north of Auckland to the East Cape. The ministry already knew it required attention, they said.

"We understand that LegaSea is impatient for the fishery to recover to its former abundance - we are too, and are already working to get there."

The spokesperson said the ministry's 2013 scientific survey of the area found that crayfish stocks were low and it had reduced the commercial catch limit by 36 tonnes, or 15 percent, to bring the crayfish back.

"Since then we've been monitoring the fishery and have heard more concerns from tangata whenua and others about low crayfish numbers, so we've decided to bring the next scientific assessment forward to this year."

It was important to note it was one of the biggest recreational fisheries in New Zealand, they said.

"It covers a significant area of coastline and includes the biggest population centre in the country.

"We know that within that large area there will be some areas of localised depletion of stocks, especially in places where the fishery comes under more intense pressure from multiple sectors, such as holiday spots."

The ministry would be supplementing its science with community engagement, to make sure it understood the issues, the spokesperson said.

Overall, New Zealand's fisheries were currently in good shape, they added.

"We will always need to work to achieve a good balance between what is right for fishers and what is right for the fishery. That is not spin, as LegaSea suggests, but a matter of public record."