The number of crayfish people are allowed to take has been slashed in an effort to combat low numbers.
The Total Allowable Catch for crayfish has been reduced from 416.5 to 173 tonnes, with the Total Allowable Commercial Catch reducing from 200 to 80 tonnes and the recreational allowance reducing from 140 to 34 tonnes in an effort to save the fishery.
While Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash's decision is being applauded by recreation fisher groups LegaSea the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council, and the Environmental Defence Society, they say more needs to be done.
“We consider that full closure would be warranted given that crayfish numbers are at historically low levels coupled with very low recruitment over the past four years,” says EDS Policy Director Raewyn Peart.
“This change needs to be coupled with close and transparent monitoring over the next few years, so that if there are further signs of decline, or lack of rebuild, the public can be assured that another downward adjustment or closure will be implemented without delay.
“We also need to put in place a range of complementary measures to ensure that our reef systems can recover as the crayfish population rebuilds. This includes protecting reefs that are susceptible to the loss of kelp forests due to crayfish overharvesting.
Legasea Spokesman Richard Baker says the decision comes after stark evidence of the collapse of the fishery. The 2017 stock assessment puts the stock at an historic low.
While closure is an option, there is no political appetite for such action and that the management of crayfish relies on commercial data gathering, says Richard.
“It's no wonder the public are losing confidence in the Quota Management System when they see one of our most valuable fisheries on the brink of collapse, having to stay open to commercial exploitation purely because there is no way to get independent data,” says Richard.
The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council submits that the recreational fishing public has already contributed to rebuilding the fishery because their catches have collapsed. During recent harvest surveys researchers found that 73 per cent of all recreational fishers in CRA 2 returned with none, one or two crayfish. Less than 17 per cent took their six-per day limit.
“The opportunity to start rebuilding the CRA 2 stock was lost four years ago,” says Richard.
“As recently as March last year, the National Rock Lobster Management Group was advising the minister that there is ‘no evidence of sustainability issues with the CRA2 fishery'.
“Since then we've spoken to fishers and divers who have all said the same thing – the fishery is devastated, and decisive action is urgently needed.”
The decision to reduce the total allowable commercial catch by 60 per and the recreational allowance by 75 per cent appears large only on paper says Richard.
Both the commercial catch limit and recreational allowance have not been caught for several years and the actual catch reduction from last year's catch is about 30 per cent.
The NZ Rock Lobster Industry Council describes the Minister's decision as: “An aggressive cut which will have severe socio-economic consequences for industry participants spread from East Cape to the northern Hauraki Gulf.
“Some very difficult decisions will need to be made by the predominately small family businesses that operate in the CRA 2 fishery, and we expect that a substantial number of commercial vessels will be forced off the water, with loss of employment and adverse impacts on associated businesses and smaller coastal communities,” says council chief executive Mark Edwards.
“NZ RLIC is encouraged by the acknowledgement from the Minister of his obligations to control recreational catch, and the expectation there will be increased compliance focus from MPI to reduce the levels of illegal unreported removals. It is now critical that adjustments are made to regulatory controls by October 1 to ensure recreational catch is constrained to the allowance and does not compromise the rebuild.
“The NZ RLIC will work with government to improve the effectiveness of measures to combat illegal take, to ensure that the rebuild of the fishery provides benefits to customary, commercial and recreational fishers, not fish thieves.”
The industry is offer a $5000 reward for provision of information to MPI that supports a successful prosecution for illegal take for sale or trade of rock lobster from CRA 2.
“We expect to see MPI review the very dated estimates of illegal take, and commit to new resources and undertake specific initiatives to combat illegal take of rock lobsters in CRA 2,” says Mark.