Marlborough Express - Decision to close scallop fishery not made lightly

Columns
Monday, July 25, 2016

The temporary closure of the Southern Scallop Fishery area (SCA7) is essential for the long-term sustainable future of our Marlborough Sounds fishery.

The closure, announced by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy earlier this month, applies to both commercial and recreational fishers in Marlborough and parts of Tasman Bay, until February next year.

I understand views on this decision are divided. However, it is not one made lightly and the ministry has made it based on the best available science.

A survey of our scallop beds carried out in November last year showed a continued and significant decline in the scallop fishery, despite reduced catch limits over the three previous seasons.

It showed the biomass of scallops in the SCA7 fishery was at its lowest recorded level and few beds were at a viable density to fish.

Precise scientific reasons for this decline are still under investigation and, besides fishing, unknown environmental factors may also be having an impact. But whatever the reasons behind the scallops' decline, it is absolutely clear that we need to protect what there is before it is too late.

A number of Marlborough Sounds organisations, groups and individuals have believed for some time that the current management system for Marlborough scallops is not working.

I, too, have been personally concerned about this for a long time and it is certain that a change of approach is needed.

As a former farmer, I know that continually ploughing the ground - in this case dredging the bottom - is simply not sustainable long term.

As we've all seen, putting too much pressure on our fisheries can lead to the depletion of fish stocks. In the Marlborough Sounds' case, blue cod are a good example.

If, like cod, our scallop beds are allowed to be put under such pressure that they never recover then everyone loses - commercial and recreational scallopers alike.

Right now, the sensible thing to do is to pause, let the scallop beds rest and replenish, and take a very good look at how we fish in the future.

The Ministry of Primary Industries has consulted widely with industry and stakeholder representatives, members of the public and iwi to develop long-term management options to ensure our scallop fishery is used sustainably.

It will use the feedback received from these groups to develop and consult on further enduring strategies to protect our fishery later this year, to be implemented in 2017.

This is about looking at what we leave our future generations with. Of course we want our children and grandchildren to experience the pleasure of enjoying self-caught fresh scallops from our beautiful Marlborough Sounds.

To achieve this, we need to work together to find a way forward and achieve a positive outcome for everyone.