NIWA trawler to haul snapper in banned Hauraki Gulf area

A trawler is about to start hauling up snapper in banned areas of the Hauraki Gulf, but fishers are being told not to worry - it's all in the name of research.

The snapper season is in full-swing for small boat owners.

"We brought home 12 beautiful snapper. We didn't even have to measure them, they were so big," said one fisherman.

Some big catches, but exactly how the fishery is faring is now the subject of a major research project.

NIWA is heading out on its vessel, Kaharoa. The target? Juvenile snapper. 

"Yeah it's a bit of a crystal ball," Darren Parsons said, a NIWA fisheries scientist.

Understanding the number of small snapper helps researchers predict how many big ones will be around to catch in the future. That information will influence things like catch limits.

"The last trawl survey that was conducted was in the Hauraki Gulf was in the year 2000, so almost 20 years ago," Parsons said. 

Representatives of the recreational sector say such work is critically important. 

"For far too long we have been operating blind, dependent on the commercial sectors information. This is independent, this is real, this is the good stuff," Legasea spokesperson Scott Macindoe says.

The last survey done by NIWA revealed the snapper levels in the Hauraki were well below targets. 

Macindoe believes the snapper fishery is currently in relatively good health. Although he doesn't think that's the case for other iconic species, like tarakihi. 

"The snapper fishery is going well. Gurnard, Trevally, John Dory - tragic."

The Ministry of Primary Industries recently cut the commercial tarakihi quota and says it's doing work in other areas. 

"We spend upwards of $20 million a year on our fisheries research," says MPI's Director of Fisheries Management, Stuart Anderson. 

MPI's own data from last year says 27 stocks of 169 are currently overfished. There are concerns about tuna, bluenose, tarakihi, snapper, crayfish and john dory, among other stocks. 

"The survey will tell us the state and health of the fishery now and that will inform us as to whether further management measures are required," says Anderson.

Fisheries Inshore NZ CEO, Dr Jeremy Helson, describes snapper numbers on the North Island's east coast as "plentiful" and says skippers are often required to "actively avoid catching snapper". However he is supportive of in-depth scientific research.

The Snapper 1 survey begins next week. NIWA will be trawling in banned areas, but have a special permit to do so.


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