The Chathams, designated PauaMAC4, is the country’s largest fishery, traditionally producing about a third of the total annual harvest of around 900 tonnes.
Its leaders, supported by the community, have proposed a wide ranging fisheries plan to better manage the resource.
Local community involvement is essential for effective management of fisheries, according to the paua group’s chairman Albert Tuuta.
“The Chatham Islands paua industry has been carefully managing the commercial harvesting of paua for many years now,” he said.
“The fisheries plan being proposed places those practices in a more formal framework to give more certainty.
“The plan is for all Chatham Islanders and all those who value and depend upon our healthy fisheries.”
The paua fishery, worth an average $40 to $60 million in exports annually over the past 10 years, is under pressure from a number of areas.
These include habitat stress caused by climate change, ocean acidification and earthquake, more immediate impacts from land-based pollution, siltation and run-off, increasing competition for coastal space, failure to measure and contain the recreational harvest, competing uses such as shark cage diving and catch reductions.
Paua fisheries require attentive management at a fine spatial scale, says Paua Industry Council (PIC) chair Stormalong Stanley.
“Because larvae settle very close to where they were spawned, an area that is depleted becomes stuck in a never-ending cycle of poor spawning that prevents recovery.
“We have addressed that by reseeding in some places.”
The paua industry has a history of successful voluntary management initiatives.
On the Chathams this includes a voluntary shelving of 40 percent of the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC).
That means a reduction from 326 tonnes to 195 tonnes for this season and next, a considerable hit to incomes but one seen as necessary to ensure a healthy fishery.
TACCs have not been adjusted since the 1980s, prompting a local response.
An absence of policy clarity, flip-flopping government positions, and lack of certainty and confidence among quota owners has hindered fisheries management for too long, the PIC submission on the Chathams plan said.
It added that in the 32 years since PAU4 was introduced into the Quota Management System, the Ministry has put no fine scale management measures in place other than the closing to commercial fishing of 15 small areas in 1993.
“Unless there is a radical increase in government resourcing of fisheries management – which we consider to be unlikely, and in any case, an entirely inappropriate response to the current management failings – fisheries such as PAU4 will never be given the management attention they deserve.”
Stanley stressed the plan did not alter the Minister’s or Fisheries New Zealand’s authority or responsibilities.
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash has expressed support for stronger local management.
Submissions on the Chathams plan have closed and a decision is expected in September before the new fishing year opens on October 1.
The Minister must determine whether to formally approve the plan under section 11A of the Fisheries Act.
But given Nash has publicly supported industry responsibility, community engagement and innovation in fisheries management, a decision not to proceed would be surprising.
Only one other industry-initiated fisheries plan has ever been approved.
That was under Jim Anderton in 2006, involving the rig fishery on the South Island West Coast and in Tasman and Golden bays.
The Chathams project represents a long overdue reprise of more inclusive, sophisticated management by those directly involved with a huge vested interest in long-term sustainability.
The plan could set a positive precedent not only for paua and Chatham Island fisheries, but also for inshore fisheries around mainland New Zealand.