Conserving our crayfish

March 10, 2018

It is encouraging that so many recreational fishers have expressed a strong desire to conserve their crayfish catch in the interests of rebuilding the CRA 2 fishery between Te Arai Point in the north and East Cape.

The MPI review of four crayfish management areas is now over and we await the Minister’s decisions that will apply from April 1st. Those decisions will be difficult for Stuart Nash as there are a broad range of views and a lot of pressure on him in his first year as fisheries Minister.

The LegaSea Crayfish Crisis survey has been underway since the beginning of February. It is the largest survey measuring public support for various CRA 2 management options available to the Minister. By the time the joint recreational submission was sent to MPI in response to their review we had received 3,600 completed surveys. We’ve since hit 4,000 thanks to lots of effort and interest. Thanks everyone!

Survey respondents have given the Minister the thumbs up to take a more precautionary approach, including closure to all commercial and recreational fishing, followed by the most conservative MPI option. People clearly want the Minister to make a bold decision to quickly rebuild the decimated CRA 2 fishery, and they are willing to contribute to that rebuild.

Our dilemma is how recreational fishers can make a meaningful contribution to rebuilding CRA 2 when it is in such a poor state. The last National Panel Survey in 2012 reveals that only 17% of fishers returned with a maximum bag limit of six crayfish. Around 49% returned with one or two crayfish.

Supporting that research are comments from the CRA 2 survey respondents. A common theme is that catch rates in some parts of the Hauraki Gulf and eastern Coromandel are so bad that people don’t even bother suiting up any longer to get in the water and dive for a crayfish because the returns are so poor.

Prior to the MPI review commercial interests indicated they would support the smallest possible cuts to the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC). There has been a lot of finger pointing at recreationals for being responsible for the demise of CRA 2, despite the plethora of data that shows recreational catch has never got close to the 140 tonne allowance.

Framing recreationals as being responsible for the depletion is a bit rich when excessive commercial harvesting has been condoned for years even in the face of falling catch rates and exponential growth in effort. How can commercial interests consider it be reasonable to have a catch rate of 0.25 kilos per potlift when in Fiordland it is 3.5 kilos per potlift?

The only justification for pulling up four pots to harvest one kilo of crayfish in CRA 2 is the export returns for quota owners, with 95% of live exports going to China.

It’s a crying shame that a fishery of such high social and cultural value has become a commodity, available on the open market to the highest bidder while ordinary New Zealanders miss out. We are now left to dream of what crayfish tastes like because we can’t compete when it comes to paying premium prices for a once-common catch.

Crayfish Crisis campaign – Watch the video, complete the survey and donate to the cause.
Media release – Crayfish stocks are in crisis and recreational fishers are calling for an independent review of the fisheries management system.
Submission summary – An easy to read summary of the submission, including initial results from the Crayfish Crisis survey.
Joint recreational crayfish submission – There is strong support for total closure or a large reduction in commercial catch in CRA 2.
Crayfish Crisis: TAKE ACTION – Crayfish may not be everyone’s target species yet we all benefit from having them in the water.
Restoring abundance – There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose ignore what they already know. [J Heywood quote]