Four irresponsible things Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ) have done that pushed the Gulf tipa / scallop population to the verge of collapse.

The tipa /scallop population in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park (HGMP) is on the verge of collapse due to mismanagement by Fisheries New Zealand (FNZ). The current population is one fifth of what it was in 2012 (when they last surveyed the beds). Huge cuts are needed to save the population, most of us will experience the loss in the supermarket or the boat ramp. Here are the things they did wrong (many by their own admission).

  1. FNZ allowed fishing methods that destroy habitat. Bottom impact fishing is irresponsible because it destroys the habitats of target species. When you kill the animal and its home a new animal is less likely to be there the second time you go hunting there. “Dredge fishing is known to have negative impacts on scallop growth, populations and the habitat that supports them” – FNZ 2021. Juvenile scallops thrown back overboard by dredge fishers (bycatch) also have a high mortality rate.

  2. FNZ relied on self regulation. Instead of doing tipa bed surveys they relied on:
    1. Industry self-regulation which hid declines at individual beds (the scheme is called voluntary Catch Per Unit Effort). The average catch limit for the last decade was more than double what was actually landed.
    2. Estimates of recreational catch based on boat ramp inspections. Commercial fishing is not the only problem here, 3/4 recreational only fished beds have collapsed.
    Cameras on commercial boats (which can match catch with location) and mandatory recreational catch reporting would enable finer scale regulation and stop this happening to other fish populations.

  3. FNZ didn’t do any spatial planing. They set no areas aside as nurseries for juvenile shellfish. “It would be logical to close some scallop beds and create passive restoration (broodstock areas) to increase the fishery yield” – Dr Mark Morrison, Shellfish Restoration Co-ordination Group, December 2021. FNZ even let bottom trawlers drag their nets over tipa beds damaging both adults and juveniles and leaving them vulnerable to predation and disease. A bed that was discovered in 2011 (Hauraki bed) was fished to collapse by 2014. This bed may well have been the nursery that propped up the already declining population. FNZ (and other governing bodies) hand picked ideas from the only integrated management plan devised for the Gulf (Sea Change 2017) which planned to phase out bottom impact fishing and addressed other impacts like sediment.

  4. FNZ didn’t take a precautionary approach. FNZ should not have to rely on iwi calling a rāhui to stop a population collapsing. No one is paying iwi to sustainably manage fisheries. The two rāhui approved under section 186A of the fisheries act were already too late to save the population but they should have been actioned much faster. Variability in the tipa population trends gave FNZ gamblers confidence and they played the fishery like a slot machine.

You can read the report that recommends closing the fishery here. I will be supporting a full closure and recommending a discontinuation of the four irresponsible behaviours. I hope that all the tipa beds recover from the closure but it’s likely many of them will not. We have recently seen this in SCA7 Golden Bay, SCA7 Tasman Bay where the FNZ collapsed the fishery, and in three individual beds (Ponui-Wilsons, Shoe-Slipper, Barrier & Kawau) in the SCA CS fishery (HGMP). Enabling the long-term damage of a habitat forming species is not just fisheries collapse or functional extinction – it’s ecocide.

FNZ 2021

Note this paper recommends eliminating bottom contact fishing is the most effective intervention to rebuild a depleted scallop populations in New Zealand