MP: It’s time to ban cockle gathering

Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross is calling for harvesting at Cockle Bay Beach to be banned so its cockle population can recover. Times photo Wayne Martin

A popular east Auckland beach should be closed to shellfish gathering so its cockle population can recover from over-harvesting.

That’s the view of Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross, who says the step needs to be taken at Cockle Bay Beach to stop cockles from being wiped out.

Ross is working with a group of Cockle Bay residents on the issue and recently directed written and oral questions on it to Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash in Parliament.

“At least three New Zealand beaches are currently closed entirely that have a larger cockle population than Cockle Bay Beach does,” said Ross.

“A 50-cockle seasonal limit is in place at the beach but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that limit is being ignored by many people.

“Cockle Bay Beach has one of the lowest numbers of cockles of all the beaches that have shellfish restrictions in place.”

Local residents publicly expressed concern earlier this year that the beach may one day run out of cockles.

The seasonal limit of 50 cockles per person per day is in place at the beach between May 1 and September 30, but there’s no limit to how many people can harvest cockles there each day.

Ross asked Nash in Parliament why Cockle Bay Beach is only subject to a seasonal ban when three other beaches with higher cockle densities are closed. He also asked whether Nash was confident the seasonal ban is sufficient to protect its cockle fishery.

Nash said that unlike the other beaches, the cockle population at Cockle Bay Beach does not show a downward trend.

“However, if the scientific evidence does begin to show such a downward trend, then we will take the appropriate sustainability measures,” he said.

In a written answer to one of Ross’s questions, Nash said scientific surveys found the number of cockles at Cockle Bay Beach fell between 2011 and 2016, but then rose in 2018.

Ross says he questions the reliability of that survey, given the cockle population had been steadily declining prior to last year.

After he raised the issue in Parliament, Nash offered to arrange a briefing for him and the group of Cockle Bay residents with officials from the Ministry of Fisheries.

That briefing will take place in east Auckland at the end of this month.

Ross says he will keep pressure on the Government to ensure Cockle Bay Beach’s cockle population is protected.