Four long years on from the Kaikoura earthquake, discussions are beginning on the reopening of the Kaikoura shellfish and seaweed fisheries.

The earthquake, described as the most complex ever studied, occurred at two minutes after midnight on the 14th of November 2016. It occurred on multiple fault lines and measured 7.8 in magnitude.

While the loss of two lives and destruction of infrastructure deservedly hit the headlines, the damage to the Kaikoura fisheries was also immediately apparent.

The upward movement of the land was massive along the Kaikoura coast – estimated to be between two and five metres - and resulted in the immediate death of the sea life along that coast. Juvenile paua, seaweed and other shellfish were thrust from the ocean.

Desperate attempts by local fishers and volunteers to get the shellfish back in the water resulted in around 20-50 tonnes of paua being relocated, as much of the habitat was permanently changed.

The fishery was closed to allow its recovery, which was estimated at the time to take five to 10 years.

Fisheries New Zealand funded a multi-million-dollar research project to assess and monitor the recovery. The Paua Industry funded a reseeding effort and education project with Kaikoura High School and local Runanga to hurry the process along.

Shellfish and seaweed in some parts of the coastline are now showing good signs of recovery but the discussion document points out it is not just a matter of opening some areas, or all the affected coastline, but strict management measures must be put in place at the same time.

It points out the shellfish are now in much shallower water than pre-quake and are very accessible to the shore. This will require a cautious approach if any areas are reopened. This could include vessel and vehicle limits, a restricted season, size limits and strict bag limits.

Whatever is decided, credit needs to be given to Te Korowai, the commercial and recreational fishers and volunteers who have expended so much effort, at sometimes great personal cost, to get the fishery from the point of desperation to one of hope.

If you would like to have a say on a possible re-opening, you can see the discussion document on the website – or email by 30 September 2020.