A Whakatane recreational diver and fisherman says an overpopulation of kina along the East Coast seabed is wreaking havoc on the habitat.
Darcy Barlow says he believes elevated numbers of kina – which he attributes to the overfishing of snapper and crayfish – are causing damage to the habitat in which many species of juvenile fish thrive.
A heated discussion was held on the NZ Fishing Community social media page in January when it was revealed that some members were “smashing up” kina for berley.
While some were unhappy that kina was being used in this way, others, including Barlow, said something needed to be done to reduce the current overpopulation of kina.
“Kina are kept at a healthy population when there is a healthy climate of crayfish and snapper, because they are eaten by them,” Darcy says.
“In my experience, there is a decimated crayfish population in the Eastern Bay of Plenty; there’s not a whole lot of snapper and crayfish around the inshore fishing areas out of Whakatane.”
Barlow says he has witnessed the disappearance in seaweed, particularly around the Rurima Rocks, a group of islands off the coast of Whakatane.
“Compared to when I was younger, there’s hardly any seaweed anymore, and there are big kina barrens out there now.”
A Fisheries New Zealand spokesperson said they were aware of reports that the number of kina is higher and increasing in some areas.
“This high abundance can have an impact on other species, for example, creating kelp ‘barrens’,” the spokesperson said.
“Fisheries New Zealand see kina as an important species for customary, recreational and commercial fishers, and are not considered to be a pest by Fisheries New Zealand.”
In 2019, Fisheries New Zealand reviewed the management settings for the area known as SUR 1B which covers kina in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
After public consultation and engagement with tangata whenua the Minster of Fisheries made the decision not to change the current settings for kina. The Minister noted that kina are a taonga species and that there was strong concern expressed by Iwi Fisheries Forums around proposals to increase catch limits.
“There are complexities around understanding the establishment of kina barrens, and it is unlikely that historical reductions of snapper and crayfish populations will be the sole contributor,” the spokesperson said.
“Fisheries New Zealand is looking at ways to address issues in the kina fishery, including gathering information specifically on the ecosystem effects of kina barrens to inform decisions on future management of kina around New Zealand.
“As part of the Minister’s decisions we will be developing a collaborative management plan that clearly identifies all stakeholder aspirations, and considers ways of gathering better information in the fishery.
“The snapper and crayfish stocks which encompass the Bay of Plenty area (SNA1 and CRA2) are both currently under formal rebuild plans, in order to bring the stocks back to target levels. As these stocks rebuild, we will also be monitoring to see if there is an effect on kina populations.”
Barlow said he would support commercial or recreational restrictions on snapper and crayfish until stocks rebuild, but believes current numbers of kina need to be reduced to allow that to happen.
“We need to get rid of the kina to allow for snappers and crayfish to come back.”