The results of a landmark survey of people who pot and dive for crayfish on the northeast coast, between Pakiri and East Cape, is overturning Ministry for Primary Industries' assurances the fishery is doing well.
More than three quarters (78.6 per cent) of the 822 crayfishers surveyed describe the size and availability of crayfish in this popular fishery as 1 or 2 out of 7 - decimated.
Six per cent rate it as average, and only 2.2 per cent describe the fishery as above average.
The crayfishers who took part are calling for a seasonal closure for both commercial and marine fishers to help the crayfish recover, says recreational fishing lobby group LegaSea today.
Of those who took part, 83 per cent support a crayfish season.
Only seven per cent oppose or strongly oppose the move. More than half (62 per cent) want a total closure for a fixed time with a managed reintroduction of fishing once the fishery re-opens.
The survey result is a rebuttal of Ministry for Primary Industries' assurances that the fishery is doing well.
“The acting director of fisheries management Steve Halley says our shellfish and finfish fisheries ‘are in good shape',” says LegaSea spokesman Scott Macindoe.
“Our fisheries are not ‘in good shape' and they're being mismanaged by the Ministry that is supposed to oversee the future viability of our precious marine resources.
LegaSea is one of several recreational fishing groups concerned that not enough is being done to address ongoing depletion and excess commercial fishing that sees hundreds of commercial craypots around popular islands such as Kawau and Great Barrier.
“Recreational divers have few chances to navigate their way through these pots and when they do, they struggle to find a legal sized crayfish to take home.”
Recreational fishers say statutory obligations to maintain the fishery at healthy levels are being ignored in favour of commercial interests whose ridiculously low catch rates of over three pot lifts to catch just a kilogram of crayfish on average, are only economically viable due to the premium prices available from live fish exports to China.
The Fisheries Act says the purpose of the Act is ‘to maintain the potential of fisheries resources to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations', yet the lack of crayfish in this once-abundant fishery is not being addressed by the Ministry, says Scott.
“MPI talks of industry voluntarily reducing its catch by 25 per cent. In fact, commercial fishers can't take that many crayfish and haven't been able to for some time. Of course they are not going to talk about the public allowance being impossible to catch. It's all becoming a farce.”
LegaSea is calling for an independent inquiry into the way MPI is overseeing the industry, the Quota Management System, and the future of New Zealand's fisheries before it is too late.
Independent scientists have already described crayfish as ‘functionally extinct' in the Hauraki Gulf because their numbers are so low they cannot perform their normal ecological function, says Scott.
”This is a damning indictment of the management of our fisheries. We want to make sure this doesn't happen to other species in New Zealand waters and an independent inquiry is the only way to achieve that goal.”
The Ministry is currently reviewing CRA 2 during 2017 in anticipation of a management review process in early 2018.
The LegaSea survey was commissioned by the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council to gauge support for potential options to rebuild rock lobster numbers and availability in CRA 2.
The CRA 2 region is the Ministry's quota management area for crayfish and extends from Te Arai Point, Bream Bay, Northland, through the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty to East Cape. CRA 2 was not included in the recent management review of three crayfish stocks.
The CRA2 area has the lowest commercial catch rate in New Zealand and last year commercial fishers left a quarter of the quota uncaught in an effort to improve catch rates. Catch rates continue to decline.
The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council has a database of about 50,000 members and LegaSea supporters. The survey had specific questions on the state of CRA2 and possible management actions targeted at people who fished for cray in CRA2.
These questions were circulated to NZSFC clubs in the area and posted on the Survey Monkey platform. It was also circulated to the New Zealand Underwater Association membership.
There were 851 responses received but some fishers did not answer all the questions.