Fisheries officers are appealing to the public to ensure they’re up to speed with the rules around collecting toheroa, now that the rare shellfish are making a comeback to 90 Mile Beach (Northland).
Ministry for Primary Industries spokesman, Steve Rudsdale, says the beach has been empty of toheroa for many years and it is great to see juvenile toheroa making a comeback and beginning to recover.
However, he says their survival will be threatened if people don't leave them alone.
"There is a ban on collecting these shellfish for a very good reason.
"The toheroa fishery was closed across the country in 1982 after a massive reduction in numbers.
"Their existence remains fragile and they cannot be disturbed.
"One of the difficulties is that toheroa look very similar to tuatua. Tuatua are much more prolific than toheroa and are not subject to the same gathering ban," says Mr Rudsdale.
"Toheroa shells are more brittle and slightly rounder than tuatua and have a slight lump at the base.
"Tuatua shells are slightly glossy compared to toheroa and have a square, flat base. A simple test is to sit the shellfish on its base on the sand with the sharp end standing up. A tuatua should stay standing, balanced on the flat base while the toheroa should fall over.
"The 2 species can be the same size and colour depending on their age but toheroa will eventually grow twice as big as tuatua and have a darker shell."
Mr Rudsdale says toheroa have a major cultural significance as well and it would be a great pity to see their recovery fail because of people's greed or the fact that people are unaware of the rules.
'The only exception to collecting toheroa is a customary fishing permit.
"If you are caught with or have disturbed up to 50 toheroa, you face a $500 infringement fine. If you are caught with more than 50 toheroa, you face prosecution and a maximum fine of $20,000.
"Fisheries officers and honorary fisheries officers will be out and about on the beach letting gatherers know about the issue and how they can tell the difference between tuatua and toheroa.
"It's important people know the difference. We will be using some discretion, but will not tolerate people deliberately or repeatedly taking toheroa.
I would encourage everyone who visits 90 Mile Beach to care of the toheora and to report anyone disturbing or taking them to the 0800 4 POACHER line, that’s 0800 476 224".