Millions of shells and live shellfish are washing up on Ōtaki Beach, angering long-time fisher and beach resident Doc Ferris, who says the massive numbers are related to harvesting by Marlborough company Cloudy Bay Clams.
It’s a claim disputed by Cloudy Bay chief executive Isaac Piper, who says there could be many reasons for shells cast on the beach.
“There have been some algal blooms in rivers and streams within that area, killing both shellfish and seabirds, and completely unrelated to any fishing activity,” Isaac says. “There have also been a number of weather events that again cause shell cast as a natural event.”
“This only happens when the clam boat is here,” he says. “It’s a huge waste and an insult to our mana whenua.
“This beach is a customary fishing area. The people of this land have been coming to the beach for kai moana for centuries. And now we’ve got a clam boat dredging everything up in its path.”
Cloudy Bay Clams operates with a permit from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
The clams are harvested using what Cloudy Bay says is an environmentally friendly “winnowing clam rake” hauled behind the fishing boat. The rake picks up the clams, which are sorted on board according to species. What’s too small goes back into the sea.
Doc says the discarded clams can’t dig into the sand like tuatua and pipi. Many of them that are still alive wash up on the beach, along with literally millions of shells.
“What you see on the beach are all small clams,” he says. “We’re getting baby clams just dying and rotting on the beach. If it was anything but the clam boat that was creating the problem, we’d have clams of all sizes.”
Isaac Piper says Cloudy Bay Clams has been fishing in several areas for the past 30 years and he’s proud of the fishery and its management.
“We have also had MPI and numerous other parties out on the boat to view the operations, and have been engaged with multiple iwi from the region.”
He says the clam fishery is “very exciting” for New Zealand’s future.
It’s a view supported by Mauraice Takarangi, co-chair of the Iwi Surf Clam Working Group, which has 23 participating iwi of the 57 that have clam quotas.
“We’ve embarking on a very serious feasibility study which looks at how we could collaborate with Cloudy Bay Clams to develop what is an undeveloped fishery,” he says.
“The surf clam fishery has one of the largest potentials in New Zealand that remains underdeveloped. In these Covid times of economic recovery, it’s very important for iwi among other in New Zealand Inc, that this kind of resource – for which they’ve had no return in the past – is able to bring benefits such as jobs and regional development.”
He said iwi would be interested, for example, in owning their own boats in a joint venture.
“The benefits far outweigh any perception that someone’s coming in and raiding the resource and inhibiting locals’ ability to fish in my own backyard”
MPI says surf clams are managed within the Quota Management System, which sets catch limits and allowances on fishers to promote sustainable use of the resource.
“We can confirm that Cloudy Bay Clams Limited hold a current fishing permit allowing them to fish in New Zealand waters,” Emma Taylor, the director fisheries management, Fisheries New Zealand, told Ōtaki Today.
Fisheries New Zealand sets total allowable commercial catch limits for commercially harvested species, including surf clams, and all commercial fishers must fish within these settings.
In addition to catch limits, there are strict rules around where surf clams can be commercially harvested. Fishers can only dredge for surf clams intended for human consumption within preapproved “sanitation zones” (a map of these areas can be found by looking for “bivalve fish” at mpi.maps.arcgis.com).
As surf clams are found in the shallows, boats are allowed to fish in shallow water close to beaches.
The position of all commercial fishing vessels (including boats that dredge) is monitored electronically in real time and fishers are required to report their catch electronically to MPI each day they are fishing.
Emma says it’s not uncommon for surf clams to wash up naturally on beaches.
“Surf clams can be affected by a range of natural causes such as storms, high temperatures and low oxygen levels during calm summer periods, algal blooms, and excessive freshwater outflow.”
She says studies have also shown that surf clams tend to have higher mortality along the Kāpiti-Horowhenua coast compared to other areas in New Zealand. It might be due to this coast being more exposed, making the chance of shells being eroded out of the bed by storms much higher.
Fisheries New Zealand monitors the area and research is planned to further understand the effects of commercial fishing on these shellfish. The results of this study are expected to be available by early 2023.
After similar concerns about the harvesting in early 2020 – and after the clam boat had been sighted close to shore during the Ōtaki Kite Festival – Kāpiti Mayor K Gurunathan negotiated a moratorium on clam harvesting with Cloudy Bay.
It’s understood there were some Zoom meetings – necessary because of Covid restrictions at the time – but the issues have arisen again with sightings of the big number of shells on the beach. Mayor Guru told Ōtaki Today that after the latest influx of clams on the beach, he was requesting another meeting with Cloudy Bay.