One step closer to harvesting kelp

By Rebecca McLeod 09/11/2009 4

On Friday the Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley announced that giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) will be introduced to the Quota Management System (QMS). This decision marks the first step of a process to “manage” the species, which forms extensive forests around much of New Zealand’s coastline. The second step will involve the setting of a Total Allowable Catch limit for the species. I posted a few weeks ago about the scientific arguments against kelp harvesting (“Is it wise to ‘mow’ our kelp forests?”), where kelp specialists Drs Chris Hepburn and Nick Shears gave their responses to the proposal to enter kelp into the QMS.

The Ministry received 26 submissions from stakeholders, most representing large organizations such as the NZ Marine Sciences Society (270+ scientists), the NZ Recreational Fishing Council and multiple iwi. In very general terms, the submissions from those in the fishing industry supported the introduction of the species to the QMS. And the majority of submissions from scientists, environmental and other groups were in agreement with them – perhaps not a huge surprise given that the alternative to QMS introduction was the creation of an open-access fishery! Where these two sides differed in opinion was in size of the future Total Allowable Catch. Industry argued for “a sustainable level”. Nearly everyone else argued that with a complete lack of scientific information, the only guaranteed sustainable level is zero. And the masses raise a very valid point – after all, the overall objective of the QMS is to help ensure the sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources…

Could kelp harvesters like this soon be working along our coasts? Image:
Could kelp harvesters like this soon be working along our coasts? Image:

The Ministry will begin a process of stakeholder consultation early next year before setting Total Allowable Catch limits for attached giant kelp in fisheries management areas 3 (East Coast of the South Island) and 4 (extending out to the Chatham Islands). It will be a very interesting process to observe – given the lack of biomass estimates, location-specific growth rates and knowledge about the ability of kelp to recover from canopy removal, it is difficult to imagine just how the Ministry will go about calculating a “sustainable level of harvest”.

4 Responses to “One step closer to harvesting kelp”

  • Sounds like a case of adaptive management, in which companies are given the opportunity to harvest by funding independent monitoring, and being subject to quota changes. Then again, such a lack of business certainty would deter a portion of the investors.

    • It could well be – I guess we might find out more about any adaptive management plan/requirements for scientific monitoring and stock assessment when the Total Allowable Catch is set. It concerns me that at this stage there has been no mention from the Ministry about any plans for scientific assessment of the ‘fishery’, despite the majority of submissions raising concerns about the lack of such baseline knowledge.

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