Estuary shellfish limit may need to change

CONCERNED: Stephanie Hampson's research into the health of shellfish in the estuary may prompt a review of daily catch limits. Picture Martin Hunter

The shellfish catch limit in the Avon-Heathcote Estuary hasn’t changed since 1986.

Last week the Bay Harbour News last week reported on researcher Stephanie Hampson’s finding that cockle numbers had fallen dramatically between 2012 and 2017.

A Ministry of Primary Industries spokesperson confirmed the current limit has been in place since the Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations were set in 1986.

Ms Hampson said the combination of poor nutrients in the water and pressure from collecting was responsible for the serious decline in numbers, from around 400 per sq m five years ago to between 50 and 80 per sq m in some areas.

She said the results indicated the catch limit of 150 cockles per person per day was too high and needed to be reduced or even a ban put in place.

An MPI spokesperson said they would be interested in learning more about the results of Ms Hampson’s research once it had been reviewed.

It was not currently aware of any concerns being raised about the estuary.

“In key areas where we are aware of concerns regarding the sustainability of cockle harvesting we commission surveys to estimate the health of cockle beds. If there is cause for concern a range of management tools are available.”

Shellfish take limits varied throughout the country and reflected the “best available information on what is sustainable,” said the spokesperson.

In some areas the limit is a result of local area management, such as within mataitai fishery reserves or taiapure – local fisheries such as Rapaki and Koukourorata mataitai on Banks Peninsula.