Pressure on a paua fishery north of Dunedin has prompted a group to ask the Fisheries Minister to close an area of East Otago coastline to gathering of the popular species.
But a recreational paua diver says if the area is closed, it should remain closed for everyone, including those allowed a customary take.
East Otago Taiapure management committee chairman Brendan Flack, of Karitane, said as paua numbers began declining in the taiapure area – which spans from Purakaunui to Waikouaiti – paua was rarely served in his marae, Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki.
“We have the ability to write authorisations for customary take, and for many years now we have limited our take of paua because we have to stand as the example.”
A scientific survey of paua in the area, and observations from the community, revealed paua numbers in the taiapure area were declining, he said.
In a bid to “rebuild” the paua fishery, the committee had lodged a recommendation with Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash to close the area to recreational and commercial paua-gathering.
“If we don’t do anything, in six years, we won’t have to do anything because we won’t have a paua fishery to manage. They will be gone,” Mr Flack said.
He hoped the closure would be in effect by October but if it was approved, the right for customary take would be retained.
However, paua harvesting for customary take would be considered only if the committee had “confidence” the paua fishery was “rebuilding”, he said.
In 2007, the committee had a regulation approved to reduce the bag limits on seafood in the taiapure area, including cutting the recreational daily bag limit of paua from 10 to 5.
Commercial fishers had agreed to stop harvesting paua in the taiapure area about two years ago, he said.
Despite the reduced bag limit and commercial fishers leaving the area, paua numbers continued to fall, he said.
Paua had become a “fashionable” food item for recreational fishers.
As wetsuits got warmer and cheaper, it “dramatically” increased the number of recreational fishers targeting the species, he said.
“So all the regulation is doing is slowing down the inevitable.”
East Otago Fishing Club president Eric Boock, of Dunedin, said he was “dead against” the closure if the fishery remained open for customary take.
“It’s just keeping it for themselves .. if they want to shut it, that’s fine, but shut it for everyone or not at all.”
Mr Boock said he was speaking as a recreational fisher rather than club president.
He learned to dive in the taiapure area about 40 years ago and believed people abusing the privilege of the customary take was a major part of the paua fishery being in “bad shape”.
A Ministry of Primary Industries spokeswoman said over the next month the minister and ministry would work with the committee to confirm the final proposals.
“Wide public consultation on the proposals will occur before the minister makes any decisions to agree to or decline the proposal.”
A taiapure is a management tool established in an area customarily of special significance to an iwi or hapu, as a source of food, or for spiritual or cultural reasons.
The East Otago Taiapure committee, set up in 1999, is made up of representatives from the East Otago Boating Club, Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki, Karitane Commercial Fisherman’s Co-operative, Rivercare-Estuary Care: Waikouaiti-Karitane and the University of Otago.