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100-strong flotilla to stage protest on scallop fishing

By Jarrod Booker

Imagine someone driving a bulldozer through your garden.

That is exactly what is happening on the ocean floor in the picturesque Marlborough Sounds as fishermen dredge for scallops, says local environmentalist Peter Beech.

The "archaic practice" is his motivation for staging a protest flotilla of more than 100 boats in the Queen Charlotte Sound as a new scallop fishing season gets under way in the coming weeks.

A scallop fishing company working in the area has called the protest "unprofessional and immature" and Mr Beech "a nutcase".

"If he wants to put lives of families at risk - it's on his hands if someone does get injured," said Mitch Campbell, operations manager for Nelson's Challenger Scallop Enhancement Company.

"He has had the opportunity all year to come and talk to us."

Mr Beech said he had been in touch with police about the planned protest.

"As soon as [the commercial fishermen] arrive [in Queen Charlotte Sound], we will swing into action. We will go to great lengths to ensure it is a peaceful protest. We won't be targeting individual fishermen, it will be aimed at the Ministry of Fisheries." Mr Beech, spokesman for the Guardians of the Sounds, has accused the ministry of failing to adequately police the scallop industry and protect the environment.

But ministry spokesman Scott Williamson said a lot was being done to protect the Sounds, such as large buffer zones to protect certain fish habitats and longer term environmental schemes.

"We are setting aside areas for biodiversity and we are working on standards that each fishery has to meet."

Mr Williamson said the dredging Mr Beech was opposed to was spread over an area of just 6 per cent of Queen Charlotte Sound. "We take the environmental impact very seriously. But we have to remember that while beautiful, the Marlborough Sounds is not unmodified."

Mr Campbell admitted that the dredging in past years had been "a disaster".

In 2005 there were too many vessels and no controls on where they were fishing. But only about seven vessels would be working in the Queen Charlotte Sound this season, from July to February.

While dredging did have an impact on the sea floor, comparing it to a bulldozer was too harsh, Mr Campbell said.

Mr Beech runs an eco-tourism business in the sounds and claims he has seen the ongoing impact of dredging on the food chain.

"We know that as long as this destructive practice continues there is no way fish stocks are going to be able to recover."

Longer wait to pick your own

The season for the recreational gathering of scallops in some areas of New Zealand has changed.

The area affected stretches from the North Cape to Cape Runaway in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, where the season is now September 1 to March 31.

Previously it was July 15 to February 14.

Whitianga's Scallop Festival on August 25 is unaffected because the commercial scallop season remains the same as before.

The gathering of scallops is restricted to prevent depletion.

A Ministry of Fisheries spokesman said the recreational season was moved back to allow scallops more time to develop.

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