Large tracts of Otago and Southland's coast could be opened up for the commercial harvesting of paua, with the move expected to face opposition from recreational fishermen.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is reviewing whether to allow commercial harvesting of paua in prohibited areas along the quota management area (PAU 5D).

That includes coastline around Otago Peninsula, Clutha River and Bluff Hill.

"The prohibited areas have resulted in benefits to non-commercial fishers from increased densities of paua, but constrained the commercial paua fishery," a ministry discussion paper, released this month, notes.


MPI Fisheries management director James Stevenson-Wallace said the commercial catch limit would remain at 89 tonnes per annum for the Otago/Southland area.

"The paua industry estimates approximately 10 to 30 tonnes of paua may be able to be taken from this area of approximately 25km - if so there may an opportunity to reduce commercial take in other areas which are of high interest to recreational and customary fishers."

That paua was estimated to be worth between $600,000 to $1.8 million in exports, but was currently inaccessible as a commercial fishery because of the closures.

At present 165km of coastline was closed to commercial harvesting of paua in Otago/Southland, and the areas were closed for food safety reasons that were no longer relevant for paua, he said.

"There are no changes proposed to areas that recreational fishers can go. The proposal only relates to commercial fishing regulations."

The discussion paper noted sources of previous food contaminants, such as meat works and sewage outfalls, have largely been removed, with paua no longer subject to the same food restriction as filter feeding shellfish.

The Ministry monitored those areas proposed to be opened, and "note the regular presence of recreational fishers".

"Under these circumstances the introduction of commercial fishers to the areas may result in increased competition for the paua resource.

"Conversely anecdotal information from the paua industry suggests that illegal harvest is occurring in many of the closed area, and that this would be mitigated by on-the-water presence of commercial fishers."

Rhyse Bartlett of Dunedin, who has been diving recreationally for paua for almost three decades, vehemently opposes the move.

"I live in Tomahawk and can walk around to Smails Beach, paddle around on my surfboard and get a feed for my family. I want my kids to be able to go around there and do that, and if they open this commercially there will be nothing over 125mm."

"It robs you of the chance to feed your family, feed your kids, and give your kids an experience; and that is a huge part of it for me."

Mr Bartlett said he had contacted other recreational divers and watersport enthusiasts about the proposal, and planned to host a public meeting next week.

Paua Management Area Council 5 chairman Storm Stanley said the industry had made a request to the Ministry for the areas to be opened, including their recommendations on how to mitigate potential impacts.

"We have done our best to pick areas that are more difficult to access by recreational fishers, and we are not going for all the areas."

The move to open new areas for commercial harvesting was "about getting a bit of pressure off the main beds", with all paua caught commercially in New Zealand exported to Asia, particularly China, he said.

Local Maori, the paua industry and other stakeholders were encouraged to provide written submissions to the Ministry before April 19, with a decision expected later in the year.