'Functionally extinct' - Fishing advocacy group want to see crayfish put before profit due to declining numbers

Crayfish numbers are declining in the Hauraki Gulf with an expert describing them as being "functionally extinct".

Crayfish number are declining in the Hauraki Gulf, known as the CRA2 region, which extends from Pakiri through to the East Cape. Source: Breakfast

The area, known as the CRA2 region in the industry, which extends from Pakiri through to the East Cape has virtually been wiped out of the popular delicacy. 

Limitations have been put in place by the Ministry for Primary Industries previously, but fishing advocacy group LegaSea says it's time the fish came before the profit. 

"We've got fisheries down in the South Island that pot lift, which is how their industry measure their take, three to four kilo's of crayfish.

"Up in the CRA2 area, they're only getting 250 grams of grams per pot lift. This has been going down hill for 20 odd years," LegaSea's Richard Barker told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning. 

In 2014, the Government cut the crayfish quota to 36 tonnes and Mr Barker explained the industry took a "volunterry shelving of a further 50 tonnes."

"The reality is, they cannot catch it. Efforts trebled over this time and the fish just aren't there. We see lots of smaller fish and what we call Weta's, just little crayfish but the actual legal size of takeable fish, it is functionally extinct and this with a supposedly world leading quota management system. 

"We really would invite the new incoming Minster of Fisheries, Stewart Nash, to use this as a case study of where's this quota management system going wrong because we have had 20 years showing decline.

"Action needs to be taken. Fish need to be put first we want to see a rebuild of this fishery over the shortest possible period and I do feel sorry, some commercial fishermen, younger guys, have brought into the industry based on a flawed business model."

Mr Barker stated that he wouldn't mind if the CRA2 region closed as long as the public of New Zealand is allowed access first when it is reopened. However, he did state he understands under the "term of reference, they cannot close the fishery, they have got to have a management system."

MPI is taking submissions on the CRA2 issue up until February 9 and said in a statement it is "committed to protecting and rebuilding this important shared fishery and is very aware that it is under significant pressure."

After their assessment in 2013 and reduction of commercial catch in 2014, MPI added, "A follow up assessment in 2017 suggested that the numbers are still low, triggering a requirement to develop a plan for rebuilding the stock."