12 Jul 2016

Ban aims to save Marlborough Sounds scallops

5:13 pm on 12 July 2016

The government has banned scallop fishing in the Marlborough Sounds and parts of Tasman Bay for the next seven months because of what it says has been a significant decline in the fishery.

Marlborough Sounds as seen from Queen Charlotte Track.

Marlborough Sounds as seen from Queen Charlotte Track. Photo: 123rf

But a scallop fisheries manager says the decision to close the fishery in parts of the top of the South Island is based on incomplete information.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the move applied to commercial and recreational scalloping, and that a recent scientific survey showed a continued and significant decline in the fishery.

Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company chairman Doug Saunders-Loder said the decision was disappointing but not surprising.

"It's not a major surprise to us. We're in a situation where predictably, we had three options to take and the Minister was going to make one of them.

"We're disappointed on the basis that we believe the information he has is not the stuff he needs," Mr Saunders-Loder said.

The Challenger Scallop Enhancement is a co-operative of scallop quota owners in the Marlborough Sounds, Tasman Bay and Golden Bay.

Mr Saunders-Loder said a survey of the fishery straight after the end of last year's commercial fishing season last November had guided the Ministry's decision-making. He would have preferred a decision based on up-to-date information.

"It's not providing a snapshot of what the current state of the fishery might be. I don't think it was going to provide any information that was going to give an accurate assessment of what the fishery would be today," Mr Saunders-Loder said.

Mr Guy said the decision to close the fishery was also based on public feedback, that it needed time to recover.

A Marlborough Sounds residents association has been vocal about the need to temporarily close the scallop fishery.

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Scallop fishing will be banned in the Marlborough Sounds for the next seven months. Photo: 123rf

President of the Kenepuru and Central Sounds Residents' Association Ross Withell said in the group's submission to the Ministry that the Marlborough Sounds fishery was being rapidly pushed to collapse by "out of control commercial interests".

Mr Saunders-Loder said jobs would no doubt be at stake, but the scallop workforce was fluid by nature of the industry's seasonality, and the success of each season.

"I can't quantify the number of jobs but at the end of the day, it starts with the fishermen and goes through to the processing sheds in Motueka and Nelson.

"They may be able to re-direct their staff to other fisheries, but they certainly won't be doing anything with scallops this year," Mr Saunders-Loder said.

He said it was difficult to measure the worth of the area that was now closed.

"To do so accurately would be based on the best information you could take from the fishery. If you used the information from the November survey it would show the worth was pretty limited - in the sense there's no fish to be caught and you're not going to see any value out of it.

"But we might do a survey in July or August and find the fish that have come through from last year have done so very well," Mr Saunders-Loder said.

He said the worth of quota was based on the loss of income to the fishermen, combined with the loss of capital income.

"So if you're not able to catch the quota, or it's shelved or sidelined to the extent you can't do anything with it, you've lost the capital value of it as well - you can't lease it or trade it and that's all relative to the value of the fish," Mr Saunders-Loder said.

He said the scallop company had closed areas of the fishery over the past few years, and trawled on rotation which he said was a reliable method to ensure sustainability, but the government had decided to close it all.

"It's a 'suck it and see' mentality."

Mr Guy said closure of the fisheries would rest the beds and allow mature scallops to spawn uninterrupted and juvenile scallops to grow. He said there was currently no scientific consensus on the exact causes for the decline, but unknown environmental factors may be having an impact.

The Ministry planned to take on board ideas on how to improve the fishery, to develop a long-term solution.

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