Recreational crayfish limits in the Hauraki Gulf have been slashed in half but fishers and scientists alike say it will do little to repair the fishery they say is "functionally extinct".

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash this week announced in the Hauraki Gulf/Bay of Plenty fishery, known as CRA 2, the recreational daily bag limit will be reduced from six spiny rock lobsters - crayfish - per person to three.

It followed over a year of consultation on the proposal, and measures introduced in April 2018 to slash the overall commercial take from 200 tonnes annually to 80.

The new recreational measures will apply from July 1, 2020, and are designed to limit the annual take to 34 tonnes, down from 140.


The changes are designed to "support a rebuild of this important shared fishery from low levels of abundance", Nash said.

The announcements follow much discussion about the state of the Hauraki Gulf, with a damning report in February highlighting major ecosystem problems and fisheries on the verge of collapse, including crayfish, and a lack of political will to address the issues.

New Zealand Sport Fishing Council Legasea spokesman Scott Macindoe said this week's announcement was "clear evidence" the Quota Management System, designed to keep fisheries at sustainable levels, had failed.

"It further highlights the Ministry's lack of awareness of the state of crisis of New Zealand's coastal fisheries," Macindoe said.

Macindoe, who'd been fishing in the Hauraki Gulf 50 years, said he stopped searching for crayfish about six years ago, because they just weren't there anymore.

"Seeing a fishery collapse into functional extinction is clear evidence the QMS is no longer world-leading and some serious changes are required."

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University of Auckland marine scientist Dr Andrew Jeffs said any reduction in fishing would be beneficial, but he'd like to see the fishery given a break entirely.


"The latest State of the Gulf report classed crayfish as 'functionally extinct', that is pretty embarrassing," Jeffs said.

"The Government jumps up and down about having a world-leading QMS, well if you have that you don't crash a valuable species."

The CRA 2 fishery area covers the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty. Image / MPI
The CRA 2 fishery area covers the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty. Image / MPI

Jeffs had submitted for the Government to take an ecosystem-based approach to managing the fishery, to address the proliferation of kina.

"We have a serious problem on our hands with widespread habitat changes, and they all point towards the overfishing of species that eat kina, particularly crayfish.

"Kina barrens are out of control and destroying kelp forests, which are important habitats and nursery areas for juvenile species, including crayfish.

"So these cuts are good but not enough, and will continue to allow basically driving the whole system down."

This kina issue was not just in the Hauraki Gulf, but the wider Bay of Plenty also, and was referred to in a recent Environment Court case to increase marine protection around Motiti Island.

Jeffs also suggested introducing upper size limits for crayfish, so the large ones could continue to predate on kina, while also producing the most offspring.

"But really I think they should give the fishery a break entirely for a while, or at least closing large sections off.

"There is a trade-off with protecting people's livelihoods and recreation values, but from a science and ecosystem it is very clear what needs to happen."

Forest & Bird spokesman Geoff Keey said there should be a three-year moratorium on the entire fishery to allow it to recover.

"They are functionally extinct. A bag limit is pretty meaningless when fishers can't even catch one."

The latest proposal also highlighted problems with the QMS, he said.

"The Government has long been talking about incorporating ecosystem management into its decisions, but this shows they clearly haven't done that. If crayfish are functionally extinct, and kina barrens are spreading, that is not ecosystem management. Hauraki Gulf crayfish are the poster child of a collapsed fishery."

Changes were also announced this week for the Marlborough/Canterbury rock lobster fishery, known as CRA 5, with the recreational accumulation limit reduced to three daily bag limits (a total of 18 rock lobsters).

In both the CRA 2 and CRA 5 fisheries, a new requirement for telson clipping, which involves cutting the last third of the middle fan of lobster's tail, has also been introduced to assist with minimising illegal take.