Are crayfish marching in the same direction as the moa?

Whangamata Ocean Sports Club — the largest sport fishing club in the country — says nothing short of a total ban on anyone taking crayfish for two years will prevent the fishery becoming extinct.

The club, which has 6500 members including Thames-Coromandel Mayor Sandra Goudie, is backing calls for a total ban on catching crayfish so that they can recover, warning that numbers are critically low.

"This fishery is dying, and it has to change now," says General Manager Phil Keogh. "The tipping point is now, we need to act now because if we don't, there will be no more."


The club's members were surveyed about their views on reducing the catch, putting in place a temporary restriction on taking crayfish or putting a total ban in place. Phil says its members supported a stop to commercial and recreational catch completely: "to allow them to rejuvenate".

The survey is part of Government's Ministry for Primary Industries consultation on future management of the area known as CRA2, which extends from Pakiri in the north to East Cape in the south, and includes the Coromandel Coast and wider Hauraki Gulf.

Recreational fishing lobby group Legasea says recent harvest surveys estimate that 40 tonnes are taken by recreational fishers per year.

Ricky Turner who runs a charter business in Tairua agrees numbers are down but is in favour of a reduction, not a ban, on recreational takes.

"Six crays has been way too many for way too long and I know holidaymakers that go out in the morning for their limit then go out again in the afternoon.

"Knock it back to one even, and knock down the boat limit too, but you can't say to kiwis that you can look but you can't take because the b******s will."

He says the benefits to the town from a visitor who pays for a charter and gets one crayfish were "huge" compared to a single quota holder.

"Commercial guys get bins and bins of them and it all goes overseas. Who benefits from that?"

A local commercial quota holder who asked not to be named says crayfish have a life cycle that the public didn't understand, and commercial operators had their own science, including tagging programmes to ensure the fishery was sustainable.

"I've been in this industry a long time and it's like any natural resource — it goes up and down. They live not just close to shore," he says. "A lot of people won't understand or have their information correct."

He had "taken a few cuts" to quota and was waiting on a decision at present, adding not all crayfish that he caught were exported.

"It's a high-value product and sustainability is our function. It's the same with cow's milk. We are a primary industry producing country and that's how the country survives."

Latest official figures show crayfish populations have been in decline for many years, and at the start of the current fishing year the amount of legal crayfish in the water was down to five per cent of what was available before large scale fishing.

Several scientists have described crayfish as "functionally extinct". Numerous local recreational divers agree.

One wrote to the Government saying additional pressure on places like Tairua from an extra commercial operator over the past two seasons has caused cray numbers to decline to the point where it is difficult to catch a cray at any time of the year.

"This is exactly the sort of situation we've been warning about with regard to the Quota Management System. 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," says Mr McIndoe.

"Instead, MPI has stood back while the fishery has declined to the stage where even experienced divers struggle to find even one legal crayfish in a season."

He was critical that Government had called for feedback instead of acting. "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."

In the Hawkes Bay, Mayor Alex Walker has taken a proactive stand over fishery management in her district, using the Resource Management Act to oversee some of the fishing areas and concerns over commercial trawling impact.