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Proposed Closed Season for Shellfish

NEW ZEALAND - The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries is proposing a closed season for shellfish gathering at Cockle Bay in Manukau City to protect depleted cockle beds.

The proposed closed season would run from 1 October to 30 April inclusive, while existing bag limits would apply during an open season from 1 May to 30 September inclusive.

"The numbers of cockles in the beds at Cockle Bay are decreasing rapidly. Their sustainability is threatened by the cumulative effect of large numbers of fishers and people who are ignoring the bag limit," said Senior Fisheries Analyst Alan Moore.

The closed season would apply to all shellfish—which the Fisheries Act defines as including cockles, pipi, mussels, cat’s eyes (pupu), kina and crabs. Only finfish and seaweeds would be exempt.

"We propose extending the closed season to all shellfish, including crabs and kina, because allowing the gathering of some shellfish and not others would confuse fishers and make it difficult for fishery officers to enforce the ban," said Mr Moore.

During the summer of 2008 there was widespread community concern at the large number of people gathering cockles and the amounts that some groups were taking.

"Community concerns were confirmed when fishery officers and honorary fishery officers observed large crowds gathering cockles, including an estimated 1,500 people on the beach on January 28, Auckland Anniversary Day," said Mr Moore.

"When the catches were inspected many fishers had significantly exceeded the maximum daily bag limit of 50 cockles per person per day."

Surveys of the cockle beds carried out by the Chinese Conservation Education Trust confirm a marked decline in the cockle population at Cockle Bay. These surveys, carried out regularly over a three-year period, show the population at some of the sample sites has been reduced to only a third of its size in 2005.

"It is clear that a year-round daily bag limit of 50 cockles per person per day does not adequately ensure the sustainability of the cockle beds at Cockle Bay," said Mr Moore.

The proposal is open for public submissions and the deadline is 18 August 2008. Anyone can make a submission and Mr Moore is encouraging anyone who is interested in the cockle fishery to have their say.