Where are the delicious scallops?

December 2, 2020

Divers, divers everywhere, not a scallop to be seen. We’ve had some grim reports recently about the lack of scallops in Opito Bay, on the eastern seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula and on the western side of the Peninsula. Sadly, these are not isolated cases of depletion. They represent further examples of poor management of local fisheries resources on behalf of our coastal communities.

Image credit: Sam Wild

Scallops are like no other shellfish. Abundance can be highly variable, there one year and gone the next. In Opito Bay locals are concerned that years of concentrated dredging effort by commercial and recreational fishers has depleted the fishery and caused long-term damage. In the past few years worried locals have approached Fisheries New Zealand for a solution and had no meaningful response.

LegaSea and the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council’s Bay of Plenty clubs are now working with the local community to find a solution. Any resolution is likely to be at least two years away.

There is strong support for Ngāti Hei, mana whenua of the area, to initiate a rāhui, a customary area closure. Ngāti Hei are keen to include all of the community in discussions to ensure widespread support for any outcome. Fisheries New Zealand will also need to get involved and later on the Minister will need to give his approval before a customary tool can be applied.

A law change in the early 1990s removed the ability of the general public to apply a regulatory tool to manage local fisheries resources. The burden of responsibility has by default fallen on the shoulders of mana whenua, local Maori. There are several options available to Māori under the customary regulations or Fisheries Act, all take time to implement. Building trusting relationships between community groups also takes time.

Change needs to happen because it is abundantly clear that current management and localised depletion is not serving anyone. It is just doesn’t make sense to have such a scarce and fragile resource being targeted by fishers using dredges that do long term damage to the seabed.

In the year 2000 the waters surrounding Coromandel were carved out as part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. This is an area set aside so that the marine resources could be maintained for the enjoyment of the coastal communities around the Gulf. That mission card has clearly been lost over time.

There is a ray of hope for these communities seeking a more abundant fishery in their local waters. While it may take some time to effect change, the outcome might be just as delicious as a plate full of scallops.