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Coromandel locals lash out over commercial scallop dredging during rahui

Anger has erupted over commercial fishing boats dredging for scallops in the Coromandel during an iwi-imposed rahui and as a formal proposal to ban the practice for two years is considered.

One upset local warned there would be ”punch-ups” if the situation wasn’t fixed.

Recreational fishers have avoided taking scallops to allow the beds to recover but the Opito rahui is still going through a formal fisheries process which means it is not illegal for quota owners to dredge the area.

But the man behind the rahui says, in his view, the commercial dredging now under way is ”immoral” -and it has also sparked condemnation from other locals, and a nationwide lobbying campaign.

The issue has come to a head with online threats of “egging and breadcrumbing” at the wharf.

The association of fishermen at the centre of the controversy said a formal rahui was not in place and it backed its methods of harvesting after realising historical methods were unsustainable.

The owner of one of the boats also said his family had been impacted by the backlash but he did not want to comment further.

The application for a two-year ban on gathering scallops under section 186A of the Fisheries Act was lodged in February by Ngati Hei.

In March, the rahui application was released for public consultation with some 2000 submissions in support.

Environment Minister David Parker said he was aware of the fishing activity and was working on the temporary closure request.

“As you would expect from something this important, there is a process to follow and any decisions will be carefully considered.

“As part of the process, Ngati Hei is provided the opportunity to give feedback on the public submissions.

“I understand from my officials that this feedback was received Wednesday afternoon.

“My officials are now finalising advice on the application which will help inform my decision,” Parker said.

Ngati Hei kaumatua Joe Davis, who imposed the rahui and applied to Parker for approvals, said, in his opinion, the dredging was ”immoral”.

Davis said, in his view: “What they are doing is not illegal, but … they know it’s immoral. There are plenty of things that are legal but that doesn’t mean they are right.”

The Coromandel Scallop Fishermen’s Association holds the quota – which is one of only two remaining commercial scallop fisheries left in New Zealand.

Some have dredged for scallops for more than 40 years.

The association said the rahui was not in place and it backed its methods of harvesting after realising historical methods were unsustainable.

Mike Astwood, a fisherman of 37 years, said: “We had to find a better way of harvesting scallops. We knew we wanted to keep catching them.”

The association changed their practices about 2009, now following a “science-based plan” to minimise effort to catch their quota without destroying the environment.

A pre-season dredge survey under special permit in May led to delays in the season this year and allowed for scallops to reach a certain percentage of recovery.

The season officially started on July 15 and would normally end on December 21.

Marine conservation group LegaSea is among those calling on the public to write to Parker to resolve the conflict.

LegaSea spokesperson Sam Woolford said: “What is quota worth if there are no fish underneath it? We’re calling on those who live, visit and holiday in the Coromandel Peninsula to write to the minister and voice your concerns.

”The Quota Management System is failing and the environment is suffering. We are asking the minister to act, he is the only one who can resolve this conflict.”

The Coromandel community is increasingly mobilising over what many see as unsustainable management of the fishery and an exhausted resource.

Residents in Tairua, Whitianga and Kuaotunu recently started policing their wharves to stop fishermen who were taking large amounts of pink maomao off the Coromandel coast.

Documentary filmmaker Mike Bhana, who has filmed the fishermen, said the system had failed.

“There are fishermen that have got to make a living but when the beds are crashing, it’s obvious the QMS is a failure as a management system.”

He said in his opinion: “There will be punch-ups over this and it falls squarely in David Parker’s camp.”

He said greater transparency included releasing results of a Niwa survey on the state of scallops in the Coromandel rahui area.

A report on the scallop fishery in the Tasman and Nelson areas showed these had collapsed and despite a no-take for five years, they had not recovered, he said.

“We have all of those same things in the Hauraki Gulf as well and those fishermen don’t have a job anymore.”

Tairua Sport Fishing Club president Warren Maher, a board member of the NZ Sport Fishing Council, said the club had done a citizen science survey which revealed the beds were so decimated divers had to swim 25sq m over historically abundant beds to find one legal scallop.

“No one else was fishing for scallops and then these boats come in right in front of everyone, when they know there’s an application in for an official ban and they know the population is on the edge of our ability to save it.

“In the last five years we’ve seen our smaller regional beds disappear.”

Opito Bay Ratepayers Association’s Chris Severne said it was heartbreaking for the community.

“We can only stand by and watch with breaking hearts as all the efforts by the community since Christmas are wiped out in just a few days of commercial scallop dredging. We are calling on the minister to help us.”

Bhana said technological advances were allowing commercial dredgers to plough the scallop beds like a field, with less than a foot between each sweep.

Some countries overseas included a policy to factor for “technology creep” which reduced quota levels by 3 per cent per year to account for technology, he said.

The Hauraki Gulf Forum has also publicly supported Ngāti Hei’s s186A application and has
called on Parker to remove all commercial and recreational scallop dredging from the entire Hauraki Gulf.

The process:

• Temporary Closure applications must be publicly consulted on to ensure anyone with an interest can provide feedback on the proposal.

• Public consultation on Ngati Hei’s request for a Temporary Closure ran for six weeks, ending May 17, 2021, allowing time for everyone with an interest in the fishery to have their say.

• Fisheries New Zealand received a total of 2376 submissions which were varied and were analysed.

• Following public consultation, the requester is provided the opportunity to comment on the submissions. Ngati Hei provided their feedback to Fisheries New Zealand on August 11, 2021.

• Advice will be provided to the Minister for Oceans and Fisheries in coming weeks.

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