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Fishing for clams . . . The clam boat at work close in shore. Photo: Supplied

By ROBYN BRISTOW

Cloudy Bay Clams’ bottom-dredging boat, which has been in the news for working close to Amberley Beach, is now raising the ire of surfers and fishermen at Waikuku Beach, where it has been dredging in front of the surf club on occasions over the past few weeks.

Surfers say it is destroying underwater sand contours that generate good surfing waves, while fishermen say there is hardly a nibble on their lines.

However, the company says its activities will always be overridden by the sea’s turbulence in the surf zone.

Keen surfer and fisherman Doug Singer, who has protested the boat’s presence for several years, has been joined by Matt and Tammi Martin, who run a family business, Surfwise, at Waikuku Beach.

They would like Cloudy Bay to stop operating in front of the surf club and leave the much sought-after surfing area free from man-made interference, which they say is ruining it as a surfing area.

Doug says Cloudy Bay has been using the hydraulic dredging method of fishing for surf clams in Pegasus Bay “on and off” for the past five years.

For most of those years he had done everything he could to get them to stop “raping and pillaging” the beach.

“They are destroying our beaches. They operate above the low water mark where I was banned from driving my four-wheel-drive because I was damaging the shell fishery,” Doug says.

He has had meetings with Cloudy Bay and other officials, and met with his local MP, Matt Doocey, but because Cloudy Bay had all the permissions and all the data, there was nothing that could be done to stop them from fishing for the clams, he says.

It was ruining his surfing and fishing because, even if smaller clams escaped through the net/cage to become food for other fish, attracting them closer to the shore, they were unable to attach to the bottom again at Waikuku Beach because of the currents.

Matt and Tammi Martin say the dredging operation in front of the surf club, right in the breaking waves, is disturbing the seabed sand as the clam boat waterblasts for clams. This makes channels along the beach in the sand that makes for poor surf dumping conditions.

“Our sport relies on an even build-up of sand banks and gaps formed by rips to create nice even-breaking waves,” Matt says. “This happens naturally at Waikuku and is being disturbed by the dredging or water blasting of the bottom.”

He says the beach is popular with surfers near and far, because of the great conditions.
“Waikuku is a main hub for surfing in North Canterbury. People also travel from all over Canterbury to surf here when the conditions are good.

“There is a local board riders’ club, and our local surf school, which use the stretch of the beach around the surf club on a daily basis,” he says.

Matt says the least Cloudy Bay Clams could do would be to focus its dredging activities, for which they have a permit, on other parts of Pegasus Bay where they are not messing up a recreational surfing area.

“There is a huge amount of beach that is not used very often by surfers and fishermen in Pegasus Bay.

“They could be focusing on that if they must. At a minimum, we would like them to leave a 1km stretch of beach untouched around the surf club area here in Waikuku.”

Cloudy Bay general manager Hadleigh Galt says the process used is always going to be overridden by what the sea does to the seabed.

This, he says, has been borne out by assessments done over about 10 years of harvesting the fishery in Pegasus Bay.

“It is a dynamic environment and any potential disturbance is essentially going to be over-ruled by the surf.

“There is minimum disturbance (by us) given we are operating in the surf zone. Nature is amazing in that regard and there is minimal impact from the boat,” he says.

All skippers of the boats are given instructions to stay away from areas if there are surfers, fishermen or swimmers in any stretch of water, he says.

Mr Galt says Cloudy Bay is conscious of its proximity to the shore and works hard to ensure it ultimately steers clear of anyone using the beach.

He says he is happy to meet anyone with concerns over the operation.