Kaikōura paūa season sees 35 tonnes harvested in 3 months

Source: Radio New Zealand

After Kaikōura's first paūa season in five years, data shows about 35 tonnes of the shellfish were harvested by recreational fishers during the three-month period.

Pāua stocks in Kaikoura have been hit hard.

By Samantha Gee for rnz.co.nz

That's more than the commercial and customary catch combined and there are now calls for the recreational take to be reported like the rest of the fishery.

Gina Solomon comes from a family of divers who gather kaimoana - and last summer was the first time her adult daughter went diving for pāua in Kaikōura.

"That was a really wonderful moment, but it didn't last long because it was horrifying to see the number of people.

"We went to the beach three times and then I just couldn't bear to go again, there were too many people."

As the administrator of Te Korowai o Te Tai ō Marokura, a group that advocates on behalf of Kaikōura's marine environment, Solomon said it was "heartbreaking" to learn 35 tonnes of paūa was gathered during the season.

"We want people to have that experience because we individually know how rewarding that is and what it means to people, but we've got to be a lot smarter about doing that and I'm quite confident that the research is going to show that we've devastated that stock."

The fishery reopened for a three-month period in December for the first time since the earthquake devastated seabeds along its coastline, five years ago.

Once a delicacy you had to dive for, the uplift caused by the 2016 earthquake means people can now harvest the shellfish in ankle deep water.

Residents reported days over summer where hundreds of vehicles were parked along State Highway 1 near Kaikōura, with large groups of people in the water, gathering pāua.

Te Korowai o Te Tai ō Marokura held an emergency meeting in January to discuss the community's concerns.

"We were worried that the sheer numbers would have a devastating effect on the stock and, and we're not really surprised what happened, we're disappointed, of course, and disappointed that Fisheries didn't take our advice and that of the community."

The group works alongside Kaikōura Marine Guardians, established by the Kaikōura Marine Management Act 2014 and appointed by conservation and primary industries ministers.

The Guardians presented a set of recommendations to MPI ahead of the fishery re-opening.

Its advice was to reopen the fishery for a three-month season, lower the daily bag limit to three pāua per person with an accumulation limit of six, along with vehicle and vessel limits, a larger minimum legal-size limit of 130mm and reporting of the recreational catch using a smartphone app.

Fisheries NZ set a catch limit of five pāua per person, down from six pre-earthquake, kept the minimum legal-size limit of 125mm with no vehicle and vessel limits or requirements to report the catch.

The recreational allowance was set at five tonnes, the commercial allowance at 23 tonnes and the customary allowance at 7.5 tonnes.

Commercial pāua diver and Te Korowai member David Rae was concerned at least seven times what was set aside as a recreational allowance was harvested.

Commercial pāua diver and Te Korowai member David Rae is concerned at least seven times what was set aside as a recreational allowance was harvested.

"We are really happy in the commercial sector that we are capped with the quota system in place as without that there wouldn't be a viable fishery.

"The ministry needs to look at the whole fishery and the total catch, not just the commercial and customary catch."

He said there was no reason why the recreational take could not be recorded.

"It's not impossible, there doesn't seem to be much appetite for looking at logical possible solutions, such as compulsory reporting and perhaps licensing, as is done pretty much everywhere overseas."

Fisheries New Zealand inshore manager south Allen Frazer said 1700 recreational fishers were surveyed over the season in order to estimate the recreational harvest.

He said on average about 250 people a day fished for pāua.

More information on the condition of the pāua beds, before and after the season, gathered from in-water surveys is expected to be released in the coming months.

"It's very much a case of pulling together information and consider what's a sustainable approach going forward.

"In terms of next steps, the recovery of the fishery to date is very much being led by the Kaikoura Marine Guardians and iwi and the community are taking a long term view of its management."

Frazer said the Kaikōura community would be consulted before any decisions were made about the future of its pāua fishery.