West Coast iwi ‘euphoric’ over two-year closure to save at risk pāua stocks

Huge pressures on the pāua stock near Jackson Bay and the Open Bay Islands (Popotai Taumaka) near Haast on the West Coast has triggered a two-year ban on harvesting pāua to help replenish stock. (File photo)

John Velvin/Stuff

Huge pressures on the pāua stock near Jackson Bay and the Open Bay Islands (Popotai Taumaka) near Haast on the West Coast has triggered a two-year ban on harvesting pāua to help replenish stock. (File photo)

An iwi has been granted its request to halt the harvesting of pāua in its community after the sea snails were almost fished to extinction.

The Ministry for Primary Industries granted a temporary two-year closure (rāhui) on harvesting pāua in two West Coast areas: the waters around Jackson and Smoothwater Bays (Ōkahu) – about 48 kilometres southwest of Haast – and the Open Bay Islands (Popotai Taumaka) just off the coast of Haast.

The closure, which began on Wednesday, means it is now illegal to take both blackfoot and yellowfoot pāua from these areas until November 30, 2023.

Local Helen Rasmussen​, Te Runanga o Makaawhio kaumātua (elder) and kaitiaki (guardian), said she and the rest of the iwi were “euphoric” when told the rāhui had been given official support.

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Rasmussen, who grew up living off the land in South Westland, said the area had always had low supplies of pāua and limited kelp (needed to feed the pāua), so careful management was needed.

Pāua had been overfished for many years, and the volume taken had increased since the emergence of Covid-19, she said.

“We’re really concerned about the future resource and the sustainability … [so] decided we needed to take action while we still had a resource.”

It is now illegal to take both blackfoot and yellowfoot pāua from the closed areas on the West Coast until November 30, 2023. (File photo)

Jeremy Wilkinson/Stuff

It is now illegal to take both blackfoot and yellowfoot pāua from the closed areas on the West Coast until November 30, 2023. (File photo)

Fisheries New Zealand director Emma Taylor said “a range of views” was received during public consultation on the rāhui.

Both fisheries were of customary importance to the local iwi, which sought an official closure under the Fisheries Act to support its rāhui, she said.

Anyone can request a temporary closure of a fishery, but it must benefit tangata whenua to be approved. A temporary closure prohibits all fishing, including customary, recreational, and commercial fishing, and can last for up to two years.

Meanwhile, pāua diving is back in business along the Kaikōura and south Marlborough coast this summer following a five-year ban.

Diver surveys found the pāua population was recovering from the coastal changes of the November 2016 earthquake, and as a result both commercial and recreational fishing restarted on Wednesday for a trial summer season.

Coastal uplift during the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, in some places by several metres, had left many pāua out of the water, prompting the closure.

The temporary ban had affected the coast from Marfells Beach in south Marlborough, to Conway River near Hundalee, and extended 4 nautical miles out to sea. It was the first ban of its kind.

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