Permit given to fish king crab

October 26, 2010 11:24

A special permit granted by the Fisheries Ministry will allow Nelson fishing companies to go after king crab, with the potential for lucrative exports, reports with reference to The Nelson Mail.

Crabco Ltd, a three-way partnership between Aotearoa Fisheries, New Zealand Longline Ltd and Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee, has been given three years and seven months for research and exploratory fishing of the deepwater crabs which can span up to 1.2 metres.

Niwa researchers have identified 14 varieties of king crab in New Zealand waters. The slightly smaller red crab are found on the east coast of the North Island.

King crab has been made famous as "the world's deadliest catch" by a popular television documentary series about the Alaskan fishery, which targets a similar species to those in New Zealand.

At present they are caught only in small numbers around New Zealand as trawl by-catch. Although the total allowable combined catch is 60 tonnes, under two tonnes was caught in 2009-10 and under one tonne the previous year.

Announcing the permit, Fisheries Minister Phil Heatley said it would allow scientific research and larger catches "so we can work out whether they can be caught commercially".

He said results of overseas fishing of giant crabs suggested there would not be any sustainability concerns over the research period, but the permit would allow for information to be gathered from which to set a sustainable catch limit for the future.

The permit allows up to 1000 tonnes to be taken from New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, with the biggest total, 250 tonnes, allocated to the sub-Antarctic and 200 tonnes from the Challenger area which takes in the waters around the top of the South Island.

Aotearoa Fisheries owns half of Sealord Group on behalf of Maori. Sealord in turn has half of New Zealand Longline, with the other half owned by Talley's Group.

Sealord general manager of international fishing and New Zealand Longline director Ross Tocker said Crabco now had to sit down and plan how to get the crab, which would be marketed in Europe, Asia and the United States.

"We're looking at chartering options, and we also have our own vessels that we could use on an exploratory voyage."

Mr Tocker said the big crabs could fetch US$60 (NZ$80) a kilogram in restaurants, "up there with lobster".

"We've really got to invest in the methodology to safely pull these things up, process them, keep them alive - the live market's where you want to head them."

Mr Tocker said Crabco would target areas which were not trawled, because king crabs preferred to sit in nooks and crannies of the rough sea floor.

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