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Tuesday 16 April 2013

Pete Bethune, founder of Earthrace Conservation, has dived into the growing storm of opposition against commercial exploitation of previously protected areas for the increasingly threatened stocks of paua (abalone) in the waters off New Zealand’s South Island.

The NZ Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is reviewing whether to allow commercial harvesting of Paua in currently prohibited areas along the quota management area (PAU 5D) taking in the coastline of Otago and Southland.

Bethune, who only last week dived for paua himself off Bluff Hill  was alerted to the issue by new action group, Paua to the People. He is convinced what is being proposed by the MPI will have a huge impact on healthy stocks of Paua in those districts, and on recreational and traditional pursuits for local people.

Bethune is speaking out in order to encourage as many people as possible to submit their objections to the proposals before the deadline of Friday 19 April.

All Paua caught commercially in New Zealand are exported to Asia, particularly China, as Paua Management Area Council 5 chairman, Storm Stanley freely admits. The market is currently worth around $600,000 to $1.8 million in exports, but unsustainable levels of commercial Paua diving has decimated stocks, and the industry is now looking to access new areas that until now, have been recreational only.

Bethune, whilst more usually associated with campaigning around the world for protection of larger marine species such as dolphin, dugong, whales and seals, is speaking up because of his belief that the battle between recreational Paua diving and commercial interests goes right to the heart of what it is to be a New Zealander.

He says, “Throughout my life and that of my family, we’ve been able, like so many other Kiwis, to gather some of our food – including Paua – from the natural resources in our ocean. It’s one of the things I value most about this amazing country.

“Now, however, the Government seems hell bent on squeezing as much as they can from commercial fishing, but this is increasingly infringing on the rights of ordinary New Zealanders. As the commercial harvest is increased, it becomes more and more difficult for your average Kiwi to get themselves a feed of paua, crayfish, cod or snapper. This is especially so with paua, where the beds are regularly pillaged, and where no product is commercially available in New Zealand due to high prices in Asia.”

Bethune believes the current commercial Paua quota should be reduced, rather than allowing the profit-makers access to currently legal recreational areas simply because they have over-exploited the areas they are currently allowed to utilise.

He says, “The arguments put forward by the MPI are, as usual, flawed in many ways. The quota set for paua in the area has historically been too high. In 2003, the paua quota was dropped by some 40%, but thanks to the on-going greed of the commercial factions involved, those beds are not back to anything like the health they had in the past.

“This is why commercial interests are now suddenly turned on what was a recreational preserve for Paua in areas where there are still healthy populations – thanks to the stewardship of the recreational divers – of this precious and historical resource.”

Bethune says that if the commercial areas remain under threat from over-harvesting, then surely the quota needs to be further reduced, and recreational areas not be allowed to be exploited by an industry that has already proven itself to be incapable of looking after its own backyard sustainably.

Stanley claims that a stock assessment by the Ministry of Primary Industries, due out in the next week or two, will show positive news for the industry.

“If this is the case”, Bethune asks, “I’d like to know why it is that Paua Management Area Council 5 seem intent on encroaching on a satisfactorily managed area where Paua are in a healthy state”.

Stanley is offering assurances that there will be a limit on the number of vessels allowed to harvest within the new areas, and that only limited numbers will be taken from the newly opened areas.

However, Bethune says, “As soon as you allow commercial vessels into an area, then it is basically self-regulation. The fact is, the public will have no idea which vessels are legal and which are not, nor will anyone be able to monitor how many tonnes are being taken, or of what weight.

“At the moment, if a commercial vessel is spotted fishing around Bluff Hill, locals all know it is illegal, and action can be taken. Once commercial interests are allowed in there, the public lose any ability for enforcement”.

As a concession, Stanley has proposed that the industry will self impose a minimum harvest size of 135mm, some 10mm larger than the current minimum legal size (MLS). Bethune says this is grossly misleading.

“In most of the recreational areas, the majority of paua are above 135mm, and some are significantly larger. This means that, initially, commercial vessels would be taking everything. With time, and as the beds deplete, average paua size will reduce, and maybe then, his ‘concession’ will have some value. But why go down this blind alley anyway? We should simply not allow commercial operations to exploit the recreational only beds in the first place.”

Paua must be harvested by free-diving – that is on one breath of air. Lung fitness develops when you are diving every day allowing you to dive deeper and for longer. Commercial paua beds in many cases are cleaned out because the regular commercial divers can descend to the entire depth range that Paua occupy. This is why there are so few remaining large Paua in commercial areas and why the industry is now attempting to encroach on these healthier populations.

In recreational areas, divers (limited to a catch of ten paua per dive) generally have reduced lung capacity as they are not diving on a daily basis, and thus are limited to shallower paua. The result is large paua – of the size Stanley proposes become ‘fair game’ – remain in deeper water, and these provide replenishment and breeding stock.

Stanley has suggested that the industry will be artificially seeding the paua beds and this will benefit the recreational beds. However, the only reason seeding has become necessary is because the current quota is set too high, and the commercial beds have become depleted.

As Bethune points out, “Had the industry heeded warnings of overharvesting earlier, they wouldn’t need to seed at all. Nor would they be demanding access to another 25km of coastline. The industry already has over 350km of the Otago / Southland coastline to manage, let’s have them manage that in a sustainable way, rather than simply giving them more coastline to pillage.”

You can help ensure this doesn’t happen
• The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries is accepting submissions on the proposed increase in Commercial Diving Area until Friday 19 April 2013. Please send an email to the following:
• In the subject line paste:
Submission for 2013/06 – Review of Commercial Access – PAU 5D Fishery
• In the body fill in the following
1. Name
2. Address
3. Phone
4. Email
Add the following sentence together with any other personal viewpoints:
In respect of the proposals put forward in Paper 2013/06 my preferred option is 1, to retain commercial harvest prohibitions.



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