The Minister of Fisheries will soon be making decisions on proposed new daily bag limits for pāua in PAU3 (Canterbury/Kaikōura) and PAU7 (Marlborough). While no-one enjoys having their catch limits reduced, there are sound reasons for easing fishing pressure on pāua stocks in these two areas.
The proposed changes will help rebuild the earthquake-affected fisheries and will ultimately benefit everyone who values a good feed of pāua. When the earthquakes struck in November 2016, the coastline around Kaikōura and Cape Campbell was uplifted. Intertidal species such as pāua were left high and dry and juvenile pāua habitat was severely disrupted. In order to protect the surviving pāua populations, the area from Marfell’s Beach to the Conway River was immediately closed to the harvesting of pāua, seaweed, and some other shellfish species.
This closure will remain in place until scientific evidence shows that the fisheries can be safely re-opened. In the meantime, important pāua harvesting areas in PAU3 and PAU7 are no longer accessible to recreational or commercial fishers. When areas are closed, fishing effort inevitably shifts into the remaining open areas, placing more pressure on a smaller fishery.
Pāua are sedentary (i.e., they don’t move around much), and this makes them especially vulnerable to depletion if fishing pressure is concentrated in a localised area. Overfishing of a local pāua population can affect spawning success and hinder the productivity of the entire fishery. The risk of commercial fishing effort shifting from the closed area to other parts of the coast has already been averted by a combination of TACC reductions and ACE shelving (where quota owners voluntarily forgo catching a portion of their quota).
Commercial catch has been reduced by 50 percent in PAU3 and over 10 percent in PAU7 (on top of a 50% reduction in the PAU7 TACC in 2016), effectively removing any excess commercial fishing effort in areas either side of the earthquake closure. Although new recreational allowances were set in October 2017, the daily bag limit was left unchanged at 10 pāua per fisher – which is the current limit in most parts of New Zealand. As a result, in the two years since the earthquakes, recreational fishers have sought to take their 10 pāua from the coastline north and south of the earthquake closure, placing extra pressure on popular fishing spots such as Port Underwood and the Marlborough Sounds to the north, and Motunau and Banks Peninsula to the south. People who dive these areas regularly will have seen how the additional fishing pressure has depleted local pāua populations.
At the end of 2018, Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ) consulted on a proposal to reduce the daily bag limit in PAU3 and PAU7 to either five or three pāua and to reduce the accumulation limit (the total number of pāua a person is allowed to accumulate over multiple days of fishing) to either 10 or six pāua. Reductions of this magnitude are necessary because FNZ considers that recreational harvest needs to be cut by half in order to protect the remaining pāua fisheries. To halve the total recreational catch, the daily bag limit needs to be small enough to actively constrain the catch taken by the large majority of fishers and for the large majority of fishing trips. A small reduction – for example, a bag limit of eight or nine pāua – wouldn’t be effective because many fishers already take fewer than 10 pāua.
Once the Minister has made his decision, the new daily bag limits will be put into regulation and are expected to come into effect in June 2019. While there will be some pain from the reductions, displaced fishing effort will be removed and the pāua fisheries will be allowed to rebuild more rapidly. Once the earthquake-affected area has recovered, bag limits may be reconsidered in the longer term. In the meantime, it may be worthwhile for recreational divers to seek out bigger pāua to fulfil their bag limit. Not only does this achieve a greater weight of pāua per bag – it’s also a good thing to do for the fishery, as it allows pāua to spawn for several more years before they are harvested.