Species Focus - Red Rock Lobster (Jasus edwardsii)
Rock lobster (crayfish) is one of New Zealand's most valuable species. It is highly sought after by both commercial and non-commercial fishers throughout New Zealand.
The largest commercial catches of rock lobster are landed in Southland/Fiordland (CRA8) and along the south east coast of the North Island (CRA4).
Non-commercial fishers mostly catch rock lobster by diving, but baited pots are also widely used.
Commercial fishers mainly use baited pots.
Theft and illegal sale of rock lobsters is a major problem, particularly on the east coast of the North Island.
Status of the stocks
There are nine major rock lobster management areas in New Zealand - CRA1-9. Stock assessments for CRA3, CRA4, and CRA5 have been updated within the past two years.
The assessment for fish stocks in the Gisborne (CRA3) area indicates these are below the government's target level. Commercial catches in CRA3 have been reduced from 327 to 190 tonnes, to help the stocks rebuild.
Catch rate information from the southern rock lobster fisheries (CRA7 and 8) suggests these stocks have rebuilt faster than expected, following catch reductions in 1999/2000 and 2001/02. The government has now increased harvest levels in these fisheries.
Fisheries in the other main management areas are assessed to be at a level around the government's target.
Current management issues
Rock lobster fisheries face a number of challenges throughout New Zealand, particularly theft and conflicts over access to fisheries.
There are a growing number of recreational fishers around New Zealand; there is also an increasing interest in management of customary fisheries. This pressure to conserve rock lobster fisheries for non-commercial interests tends to be greater in coastal lifestyle and holiday areas (in the CRA3 area, commercial fishers have voluntarily agreed to stop fishing during the summer holiday period, to reduce conflict with recreational fishers).
Added to this competition is the fact that reserves and other fishing restrictions have either closed fishing grounds completely, or closed them to commercial fishing.
The combined effect means increasing competition for rock lobster resources across a decreasing number of fishing areas.
Rock lobster catch limits and allowances
The catch limits and allowances for rock lobster have been set at 3,359 tonnes for the 2005/06 fishing year.
Of this, the government has allowed 156 tonnes to cover customary fishing, and 325 tonnes to cover recreational catch. It has also allowed 289 tonnes to cover such things as theft (poaching and illegal sales), illegal fishing (eg mis-reporting), and injury of fish. Commercial fishers have been allocated 2,589 tonnes.
Rock lobster fisheries are managed using a range of catch limits, size limits, gear restrictions and closures. These include size limits and daily catch limits for recreational fishers, and an annual catch allocation for commercial fishers in each management area. Regulations also include escape gaps in all lobster pots to let undersized lobsters get out.