Crayfish stocks are in crisis, and recreational fishers are calling for an independent review of the fisheries management system.
LegaSea spokesman Scott Macindoe said last week crayfish numbers in CRA2 (from Pakiri to East Cape, including the Hauraki Gulf) were at an all-time low.
The latest official assessment showed the crayfish population had been in decline for many years. At the start of the current fishing year numbers represented five per cent of what was available before large scale fishing.
Several scientists had recently described crayfish as "functionally extinct" in the Hauraki Gulf, meaning that those remaining were insufficient to carry out their natural function.
Yet the Ministry for Primary Industries had maintained its "laissez faire, hands-off stance," Macindoe said, although it was now inviting input on several options for the future management of CRA2. Last week the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council, along with LegaSea, requested help to formulate a response.
"This is exactly the sort of situation we've been warning about with regard to the Quota Management System," Mr Macindoe added. "The QMS is allowing industrial fishing to take place without effective governance from the ministry that is charged with managing marine resources on behalf of all New Zealanders.
Instead, the MPI has stood back while the fishery has declined to the stage where even experienced divers struggle to find even one legal crayfish." There were increasing reports of recreational divers not even bothering to fill their tanks and look for crayfish over recent summers.
Last year, 78 per cent of survey respondents had told LegaSea that the size and availability of crayfish in CRA2 was either decimated or close to it. There was majority support for a seasonal or total closure to rebuild crayfish stocks.
"In response to public pressure, the then minister brought a management review forward by a year, in an acknowledgement that current management had failed," he said.
"Last year we said the situation was reaching crisis point.
"Now we have the Ministry conducting a consultation process and only giving the public 18 working days to respond.
"LegaSea and the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council are asking members of the public to tell the minister just what they believe needs to be done to save this fishery."
Commercial fishers had doubled their cray potting over the past 16 years, but were catching fewer crays now than they were at the beginning of the century.
By all independent measures the stock was collapsing, yet the MPI and the National Rock Lobster Management Group had until now adopted temporary measures and a watch and see approach.
Recreational fishers wanted action now, he said.
"This isn't about recreational and customary rights versus commercial rights.
"It's about ensuring sustainability and healthy ecosystems taking priority, and it's about protecting the resource for future generations," he said.
"We need to stop this madness in CRA2. Recreational fishers have developed a manifesto that encompasses a new way forward.
"We need a total overhaul of the Quota Management System, and we need a new way to oversee New Zealand's fisheries."
LegaSea was repeating its call for a Commission of Inquiry into the state of fisheries management in New Zealand.
"The survey can be found at www.legasea.co.nz/crayfishcrisis/," Macindoe added.
"We urge all New Zealanders to let us know what they would like to see happen."