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Auckland's Hauraki Gulf struggling under the surface, despite being an immaculate vista for America's Cup

It’s big, beautiful and currently the highest-profile piece of aquatic real estate on earth: Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.

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It comes despite the world watching the beautiful vista amid America’s Cup racing. Source: Sunday

But, while the tussle for the America's Cup grips world attention, there's another drama raging beneath the surface.

A dispute between those who say the future of the Gulf is looking assured and those who say the warning signs of impending environmental disaster can’t be ignored.

The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park has more than 50 islands and spans 1.2 million hectares.

It’s always been a productive fishery. But, as fishing steadily increased since the 1930s, a National Quota Management System (QMS) was introduced in 1986, designed to limit catches.

Since the first Covid-19 lockdown last year, more and more of Auckland's 1.5 million residents have been hitting the Hauraki Gulf and more of them are fishing.

Sam Woolford from LegaSea, a major recreational fishing lobby, says crayfish are considered “functionally extinct”.

“We’ve got problems up and down the coastline with ecosystem collapse,” he says.

Latest studies say the number of fish in the gulf is less than half of what it was in the 1920s.

“We’re saying to our Ministers, ‘Let’s have another look at our commercial fisheries and recreational fisheries.'

“It’s no good fishing an empty playground, and that’s what we’ve got to start getting real with,” Woolford says. 

But, not everyone agrees it’s all doom and gloom.

Nathan Harvey is a commercial snapper fisherman who is contracted to fish 120 tonne of snapper a year. He believes the current system is working.

Guided by the QMS, Harvey says he is doing everything by the book.

“I get sick of social media and, you know - this blame game and finger pointing at the commercial sector,” he says.

“I can only talk about snapper and I don’t believe that the fish stocks have plummeted.

“There's only four seine boats now, no trawlers full-time, so you're talking about a handful of fishermen these days that actually fish the Hauraki Guf."

It comes as one expert says that the recreational catch is twice the amount of the commercial catch at a ratio of two to one.

For the full Sunday story, watch the video above.