Fishers say consultation too short

Otago's rock lobster industry faces a double-whammy as the chaotic impact of coronavirus coincides with the consultation period to consider a huge marine protection area off the region’s coast.

The timing of the Department of Conservation’s announcement was "totally inconsiderate" and, for a Government focused on wellbeing, was causing stress for those involved, Otago Rock Lobster Industry Association executive officer Kate Hesson said yesterday.

"It’s an insult on top of injury for our members to have to deal with this Wellington issue when their livelihoods are being complicated by the market chaos," Ms Hesson said.

Doc and Fisheries New Zealand were seeking public feedback on a proposed network of marine protected areas off the southeast coast of Otago and the rock lobster industry appeared set to take a big hit.

The submission process was advertised on February 17 and submissions close on April 17.

Ms Hesson said she believed there was not enough time to have an informed process.

The industry has been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in China, its major export market.

Earlier this month, it was estimated that 590tonnes was either not caught or had been harvested and placed in holding facilities when the markets were closed by China in late January.

If all of that catch had been landed and exported, it would have had an export value of about $68million.

Earlier this month, the Government allowed fishermen in some cases to return lobster back to the sea.

Ms Hesson wrote to Doc director-general Lou Sanson when the consultation was announced, asking for a postponement, but had not heard back — "not even an acknowledgement".

"This is an important proposal with big effects for everyone. We need to get it right, not get it fast. The consultation process means a hell of a lot of work for people to put in good submissions, and it’s just tone deaf for politicians to be ignoring what’s going on in the real world," she said.

While Fisheries New Zealand was genuinely trying to help the lobster industry work through the China market issues, "the right hand doesn’t seem to know what the left hand is doing".

That was not fair for fishers and their families during what was also a particularly busy time of the year for them, she said.

After being contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday afternoon, Doc was unable to respond to the concerns raised by Ms Hesson by deadline.

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