Eastern Coromandel scallop beds being stripped bare by commercial fishers, survey finds

The once abundant scallop beds along Coromandel’s Eastern Peninsula are being stripped bare, according to a dive survey commissioned by the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council.

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Intensive fishing practices like dredging are being blamed as the cause.

For years, locals have watched commercial fishers decimate the seafloor, and now they’re attempting to put a stop to it.

“They’re finding one scallop every 25 square metres - it’s like the size of a swimming pool,” Opito Bay Ratepayers Association Chairman Chris Severne said.

Intensive fishing practices like dredging are being blamed for stripping the seafloor.

“They kill everything that gets in the way and that’s just decimating the marine environment.

“These small scallops are being crushed and we’re not seeing future stocks coming through,” Legasea’s Sam Woolford said.

Scallops used to wash up in their thousands on the beach, which Ngāti Hei's Joe Davis said is “Tangaroa’s [god of the sea’s] gift to us”.

But the Coromandel kaitiaki hasn’t seen a wash up in eight years.

Davis said “it’s not only affecting us as humans or as Māori, it’s also affecting our seabirds - they’re having to go further and further afield to feed their chicks”.

Ngāti Hei's placed a voluntary rāhui on taking scallops and now, the community’s calling for the Ministry for Primary Industries to enforce that ban, with submissions closing on Monday.

The Ministry for Primary Industries’ last survey of commercial scallop beds in Opito Bay was nearly a decade ago, but a new survey will be conducted in coming months to determine if a ban on taking scallops is necessary.

“I want someone to be able to go out and dive tomorrow and catch a feed of scallops – no dredging but catching scallops by diving,” Severne said.