Better monitoring by fisheries officials during peak harvest periods of mussel spat on Northland's Ninety Mile Beach is necessary to ensure regulations are adhered to, say Far North residents.
Spat gathered off the iconic Far North beach provides up to 75 per cent of the spat to the country's mussel farms and is crucial to the industry which earns around $297 million in export earnings each year.
A facebook video posted online by Ahipara resident Rawhiti Waiti has revealed the extent of the harvesting activity and raised questions over the monitoring of regulations surrounding spat harvesting.
The footage shows about eight loaders crashing through the surf, scooping up seaweed with the mussel spat attached and 10 trucks and trailers waiting on the beach.
Waiti, of Te Rarawa and Ngati Pikiao, had not see harvesting on such a scale.
He made the video to raise awareness about the activity happening on the beach as he believed people were oblivious.
He said while there had been ongoing concern raised by locals over commercial fishing and spat gathering for years along Ninety Mile Beach, capturing the activity on camera had given people an insight.
"It was definitely a surprise to see it on that scale and when I spoke to one of the guys there he said there could be up to 15 loaders in the water at once. It's a real eye-opener."
He also questioned the damage the heavy vehicles would be doing to the tuatua and toheroa beds.
The Ministry for Primary Industries issues permits and licenses for spat gathering.
Green-lipped mussel spat — tiny mussels usually the size of a match head or even smaller — attaches to drifting seaweed and washes ashore on Ninety Mile Beach all year round but in bigger quantities from August to December.
Since 1978 the beach has been regularly monitored for spat strandings and the mussel spat commercially harvested.
Locally known as "Kaitaia spat" it is transported in refrigerated trucks to mussel farms around the country, and attached to suspended culture ropes using biodegradable mesh stockings.
They grow on the ropes for about six months before they are reseeded on to longlines several kilometres long. They grow for a further nine to 12 months before harvesting.
Other areas where spat is harvested include Golden Bay and Tasman Bay.
In October 2004 green-lipped mussel spat was introduced into the fisheries Quota Management System.
In a statement the head of Fisheries New Zealand Don Bolger said the issue at hand was contentious but the operators involved in the activity are licensed commercial fishers operating under the Quota Management System and it was not illegal.
He said fisheries officers were monitoring the spat collection to ensure they were not being undertaken lawfully.
Jo Conrad, of Te Aupouri, grew up on Ninety Mile Beach and described the activity as "carnage" on the coastline.
While there was a Code of Conduct in place for those involved in harvesting, a lack of fisheries officials on the beach to police it and monitor the behaviour of commercial industry was failing everyone, Conrad said.
"Fisheries are trying to enforce the regulations but they just don't have enough people on the ground to police the code of conduct. So everyone can flout the regulations ... it's big business and big money.
"My concern is also about the behaviour of the operators on the beach and their attitude to local communities and the environment."
He said some operators would be playing by the rules but there would be those who were not.
Te Rarawa Chairman and head of Te Oneroa a Tohe Governance Board, Haami Piripi was also shocked and concerned after seeing the footage.
He said the Governance Board in combination with local government and Te Hiku o Te Ika iwi had started the process of developing a Beach Management Plan for the Ninety Mile Beach. The statutory plan would shape the future use of the beach across a range of areas including cultural, resource management and environmental considerations.
Aquaculture New Zealand was tasked with managing the code of practice for the commercial green-lipped mussel industry, mussel spat collection and loader driving on beaches and the code was reviewed each year.
The code requires harvesters to avoid areas where toheroa and tuatua beds occur, limit time on the beach, avoid areas of high public and cultural importance, and ensure all harvest machinery is well serviced and not leaking fuel and oil.
In a written statement Aquaculture New Zealand yesterday said they recognised the importance of Te Oneroa A Tohe Iwi as kaitiaki of the beach and respected their values.
"We are listening to the community concerns and have formed a new working group with Te Oneroa a Tohe Iwi and MPI to review that plan to make sure our harvesting is responsible, sustainable, safe and appropriately respects iwi and community values."
The first meeting will be on August 28.
"Local people have been collecting spat on Te Oneroa A Tohe for the past 35 years. But there is still misunderstanding about the process."
West coast Iwi, who have coastline between Cape Reinga and Mokau, were collectively allocated 20 per cent of the quota.
Every year quota generates an Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) that fishers buy in order to be able to harvest spat within the sustainable limit.