$8m snapper tagging plan stirs debate
Some experts say an $8 million snapper tagging programme to assess numbers is too little, too late.
The Ministry for Primary Industries plans to research snapper numbers and movements over the next three years by electronically tagging 100,000 fish.
The review is likely to begin this summer in the Snapper One area off the east coast of the upper North Island. The fish will be caught by long lines and tags the size of rice grains will be inserted into their gut cavities. Initial results are expected by 2019 or 2020 and final results in 2022.
Auckland marine biologist Roger Grace supported the research, but said a more radical approach must be taken to stop snapper disappearing.
‘‘More understanding of snapper is a pretty important thing, but there are already things we know we can do to improve the snapper situation, which is pretty dire in Snapper One. With snapper stock at 19 per cent in 2013, that’s pretty pathetic, so they need to take some pretty drastic measures,’’ Dr Grace said.
Snapper is not only a favourite commercial and recreational catch, but has a key role in the eco-system, he said. Both snapper and crayfish, which are severely depleted, keep kina numbers down.
Left unchecked, kina have destroyed the kelp forests and marine habitats on shallow reefs throughout the Snapper One area over the past 30 years, Grace said.
‘‘What we need in the Hauraki Gulf is a good network of marine reserves, because only marine reserves will restore the full size range of snapper and allow the reef ecology to recover.’’
Waiheke Local Board chairperson Paul Walden said it was worrying that the snapper research is being carried out by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which is ‘‘primarily concerned about catching fish’’, rather than the Department of Conservation. Both Walden and Grace suggested 10 per cent of New Zealand waters should be protected in marine reserves, but less than one per cent is currently protected.
‘‘We’ve got 30 per cent of our terrestrial country in conservation estates, we’ve got lots of indigenous bird species that it’s illegal to kill, yet we’ve got this free for all happening at sea,’’ Walden said.
‘‘What we need in the Hauraki Gulf is a good network of marine reserves’’ Dr Roger Grace