Recreational wreckage in Kaikōura

Dr Jeremy Helson

The Kaikōura pāua fishery has had its second disaster.

The first, the 2016 earthquake, could not have been predicted, but the latest – the pillaging of 35 tonne of pāua from Kaikōura’s waters in a three-month window by recreational fishers – could have been, and was, predicted.

The Kaikōura Marine Guardians and the commercial fishing industry were both insistent that strong precautionary measures needed to be put in place to avoid this very outcome.

For more than five years, the Guardians, the commercial pāua industry, and Kaikōura locals have sweated blood to revive and reseed the Kaikōura fishery after the seabed rose up to two metres during the 2016 earthquake, leaving the pāua beds decimated.

It was with trepidation then, that both the Guardians and the

commercial sector submitted a raft of measures that they believed would adequately safeguard the rebuilding fishery if it were to temporarily open to harvest.

With the exception of the three-month time period for the temporary re-opening, all of those safeguards were ignored.

The recommendation to increase the minimum size was rejected, as was advice on vehicle and vessel limits.

The recommendation to restrict the bag limit to three per person, with an accumulation limit of six, was ignored.

A recommendation to use an approved harvesting tool, likewise.

Compulsory reporting of recreational catch? Not a chance.

The people who nursed this fishery back to health have good reason to be livid about this.

The 35 tonne take, which is seven times over the fivetonne allowance approved by the Minister, was likely an underestimate. Some areas of the coast, such as Oara, were not even surveyed.

However, even if we use the 35 tonnes, it is worth noting that the amount of pāua taken between December 1 2021 and February 28 2022 by recreational fishers exceeded the entire Total Allowable Catch for customary, amateur, and commercial catch combined.

The Guardians predicted this. The commercial industry predicted this.

With no other restraints, a short season just incentivised a free-for-all.

It also incentivised people to travel to harvest, which was borne out by the survey, which showed three times as many fishers came from Christchurch than came from Kaikōura.

Arguably even worse, is that the survey showed 10 tonnes of undersized pāua were caught and returned to the sea by the amateur fishers, with unknown survivability.

The pāua were sitting ducks.

Because the sea floor had come up in the earthquake, the fish were big, numerous, and in shallow water. It was a gumboot fishery – no skill required.

By ignoring recommendations that would have guaranteed restraint on this fishery, the regulators did little more than ring the dinner bell.

We can only hope that, when the discussion comes around again, the people who fought for this fishery, who know this fishery, will be listened to.

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