A year after the Kaikōura earthquake it’s clear that the pāua resource has been significantly affected by the dramatic uplift of a long stretch of coastline.
Habitat critical to juvenile pāua has been lost and there has been major mortality, particularly of the juvenile pāua that are so critical to providing an abundant fishery in the future. The long-term implications of these losses are not yet fully understood and we don’t know how long it will take for the environment to recover from the changes wrought by the earthquake. However, research and monitoring programmes have been put in place by the government and the commercial pāua industry and we hope to know more about the fishery’s prospects by the middle of 2018.
One thing that we do know for sure right now is that the earthquake-affected area should remain closed to all pāua harvest until the results from the science are available to inform future management. The pāua industry fully supports the continued closure of the Kaikōura/Cape Campbell area. With the SH1 coastal route scheduled to reopen in December, it’s absolutely critical that the closure is respected by all fishing sectors and effectively enforced by fisheries officers.
A second thing we know for sure is that unless action is taken now, excessive fishing pressure outside the closed area will threaten the sustainability of the pāua resource in adjacent areas over the summer. Popular fishing spots such as Port Underwood and the Marlborough Sounds to the north, and Motunau and Banks Peninsula to the south are particularly at risk. If all or some of the fishing effort that was previously employed in the Kaikōura/Cape Campbell area is transferred to adjacent areas, the damage to pāua fisheries will become far more extensive than just the earthquake-affected area. This is why the Kaikōura pāua industry accepted a halving of their allowable catch from 1 October 2017. The catch reduction effectively prevents the displacement of commercial effort into the remaining open areas of the fishery.
The main mechanism for managing recreational fishing effort is the daily bag limit. In the next few months, the Ministry for Primary Industries intends to consult on proposed changes to bag limits in areas adjacent to the Kaikōura/Cape Campbell closure, but any changes to the bag limits won’t be put in place until April 2018.
So what can recreational fishers do to safeguard the adjacent pāua stocks over the busy summer season? Simple actions can help, especially if they are adopted on a widespread basis. Most importantly, fishers should take only enough for a feed, rather than treating the bag limit like a target. If you notice that the pāua you’re seeing are mainly small, then consider moving to a new stretch of coastline rather than hammering an already-depleted area. Take care not to damage pāua during harvesting and handling, and carefully return all undersize pāua to suitable habitat immediately.
There are also some important longer-term actions that recreational fishers may wish to be involved in or support. The Kaikōura pāua industry is seeking to establish a structured and secure approach to the rebuilding and management of the fishery. We want all fisheries management decisions to be inclusive, well-informed and based on reliable science. To achieve this, the industry intends to develop a community-endorsed fisheries plan that would be formally approved by the Minister of Fisheries.
The plan will involve all fisheries stakeholders, including recreational fishers, iwi, Te Korowai, and the Ministry for Primary Industries. The industry is also investing in pāua reseeding and habitat enhancement in the earthquake-affected area, working alongside the Kaikōura community, with the intention of boosting the rebuild rate of the fish stock. The Kaikōura pāua industry welcomes the active involvement of recreational fishers and their representatives in both the fisheries plan initiative and the reseeding and habitat enhancement work.
In summary, there will be some tough years ahead for the pāua fishery from the Marlborough Sounds down to Banks Peninsula. Everyone who cares about these fisheries – including commercial, recreational and customary fishers – will need to take a patient, long-term view and exercise responsibility while the habitat recovers and the stocks rebuild. But on the positive side, there are plenty of actions we can all take right now to support the rebuilding of the fishery, prevent serial depletion, and improve the long-term management of the pāua fishery for everyone.