New Zealand announced new tools to tackle kina barrens

These include an increase in the recreational daily catch limit in the North Island and a new special permit to remove kina along the entire New Zealand coast.
Rock on sandy sea bottom covered with encrusting sponges and tunicates and sea urchins (kina / Evechinus chloroticus).

Kina are herbivores in kelp forests. When hordes of kina denude a kelp reef and create this open area known as barren, it can remain free of large seaweeds for years.

Photo: Adobe Stock.

Although most acute on the east coast of the upper North Island, the problem of kina barrens occurs - or may occur - all along the New Zealand coast. So, after opening a consultation period last April on two proposed measures to help tackle it and rebalance local ecosystems, Oceans and Fisheries Minister Shane Jones has announced new tools to tackle it.

Those proposals included a new special permit for targeted culling, harvest, or translocation of kina and long-spined sea urchins, and options to increase recreational daily bag limits for kina in the Auckland East Fisheries Management Area. Now, after completing the consultation, Minister Jones has decided to implement both.

New Zealand will increase the recreational daily kina catch limit around the northeastern North Island but will also establish a new special permit to remove kina to help address kina barrens across the country.

More tools for people's ownership over their coastline health

But what are kina barrens and why are they a problem? These are rocky reef areas where an overpopulation of kina and long-spined sea urchins has consumed healthy kelp forests, forming a barren space detrimental to other marine life.

These native sea urchins are important herbivores in kelp forests, so when hordes of kina strip a reef of kelp and create this open area known as a barren, young kelp attempting to colonize it are eaten by the resident kina. A barren may remain free of large seaweeds for years.

New Zealand's Oceans and Fisheries Minister, Shane Jones, said he has made addressing kina barrens a priority, and that from the feedback received during the consultation period opened in April, it is clear that many New Zealanders share his concerns.

"My decision to increase the recreational daily catch limit for kina in the Auckland East Fisheries management area to 150 and approve a new special permit that will allow targeted removal of kina will enable communities to get involved in combatting this issue," he claimed.

"These measures won’t fix kina barrens immediately, or on their own, but they will give people more tools to take on kina barrens in their rohe and greater ownership over the health of their coastline," Oceans and Fisheries Minister continued.

Both the new recreational daily limit and the special permit apply to long-spined sea urchins as well as kina. The first will come into effect on 1 August 2024, and the latter is already available for applications from July 4.

Further options to solve the problem will be explored

As mentioned above, the new recreational daily limit of 150 kina per angler will apply along the east coast of the North Island from North Cape in Northland to Cape Runaway in the Bay of Plenty. This is the Auckland East fisheries management area.

The special permit, meanwhile, can be applied for anywhere in New Zealand and allows individuals or organizations to harvest, cull, or move kina to help with habitat restoration or to prevent the development of kina barrens.

All permits will go through an application process that will include providing evidence of actual or potential kina barrens in the area before being approved. One of the organizations that is already working to tackle New Zealand kina barrens overpopulation and could apply for one of these is Urchinomics Aotearoa.

Launched last May following the success of Kinanomics, their joint pilot project to create a high-value aquaculture industry from kina, the new collaborative business between global sea urchin ranching and kelp restoration company Urchinomics and environmental project developer and advisory firm EnviroStrat is already targeting the overharvesting of kinas that have degraded New Zealand's kelp forests.

Although the measures now approved relate to catches, Urchinomics Aotearoa is a good example that aquaculture can also be a tool to help solve the kina barrens problem in New Zealand, creating employment while supporting the restoration of kelp forests and marine ecosystems.

Perhaps this is one of the possibilities the Oceans and Fisheries Minister had in mind when, in announcing the measures, he said that this is not the end of the work he will do on kina barrens. "I have directed my officials to expand our scientific knowledge of the problem and investigate further options for dealing with it," Jones said. "I'm confident that together we can tackle kina barrens and restore our coasts with healthy kelp forests that support biodiversity and thriving kaimoana."

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