Pilot study hones in on major fisheries opportunity

10 May, 2016
 
Shellfish being processed at Cloudy Bay Clams Ltd.

An AUT research team is embarking on a unique pilot study, using remote sensing techniques to assess the impacts of surf clam dredging.

New Zealand surf clams consist of seven commercially harvested shellfish species, and together they represent a huge growth opportunity for the country’s fishery sector. With great international demand for surf clams and projected potential to sustainably harvest over 30,000 tonnes annually, New Zealand stands to benefit from widespread job creation and export earnings valued at around $300 million per annum.

Achieving sustainable growth and safeguarding the environment are major considerations in developing the new fishery however. AUT has been researching in this field alongside industry, iwi and government for several years, and the pilot study will facilitate further progress by trialling the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) in assessing the spread and settlement of the sediment caused by clam dredging.

Associate Professor Lindsey White says the study is an early step in an important research area. “New Zealand has the opportunity to develop a very beneficial new fishery, and to ensure from the outset that we don’t damage or compromise our natural resources in the process. But to achieve this, we need a deeper understanding of some factors associated with clam harvesting.”

Associate Professor White recently drew a multi-disciplinary group of experts together to better understand the approach of New Zealand’s only current commercial clam harvester, Cloudy Bay Clams Ltd (CBC). A team of experts from NIWA, Cawthron Institute, Victoria University, the University of Auckland and AUT visited the Marlborough operator to consider the challenges and opportunities facing the surf clam industry, and how best to address them through research and development.

The team has applied to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment to launch a large collaborative research project, which will generate the scientific insights needed to guide sustainable growth of New Zealand’s surf clam industry. “We hope to integrate ecological, genomic and social science in the development of this new fishery, so we can pinpoint the maximum sustainable yield, mitigate social and ecological impacts, and aid successful harvesting of the shellfish,” says Associate Professor White.

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