Rock lobster catch quota co-operation

Otago rock lobster fishermen hope an agreement with fisheries scientists will enable them to stabilise the dramatic increases and decreases in their quota.

The Otago rock lobster season begins today, a couple of months after the fishermen learned their commercial quota would be cut from 189 tonnes to 84.5 tonnes.

About 12 boats will head out today, weather permitting, compared with 18 last season.

Area executive officer Simon Gilmour said a decision was made at the annual meeting of the Otago Rock Lobster Industry Association to work with fisheries scientists to develop a management rule to stabilise the catch.

"The industry wants to go for a more consistent annual catch rather than a rather dramatic increase then decrease."

To do this, a sustainable level had to be decided upon and the final catch limit would probably be a level below what it had been, he said.

"We'll probably take the conservative view to find a level that will work for us without the jumps."

It was hoped the work by scientists could be done on the boats this season, with the new catch limits in place by next season.

Overall, those involved in the industry had "quite a positive view of the future", Mr Gilmour said.

Divers had been out looking at the rock lobster beds and things looked "reasonable" for the start of the five-month season, he said.

Area manager of Otago's only rock lobster processor, Fiordland Lobster, Euan MacDougall, said the drop in quota meant the Sawyers Bay factory would not need to employ extra staff to process the lobster caught by the Otago fishermen this season.

Last year, the factory had 13 staff during the peak of the season and processed 156 tonnes, but this year the staff level was likely to remain at seven.

"We'll be processing half of what we were targeting but we're bringing fish in from other areas to keep staff on."

They were processing lobster from Kaikoura and Jackson Bay-Te Anau areas, where they fished 12 months of the year, to take the pressure off the company's other plants and keep the amount going through the factory at a similar level to last year, he said.

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