The history

Green-lipped mussel beds were once prolific in the Hauraki Gulf, covering up to 1,500 of the Gulf.  Being so abundant it was thought the mussels were inexhaustible. 

Commercial fishing began in 1910 with as many as eight boats towing 2-3 m wide steel dredges, to supply mussels to the domestic markets, mainly in Auckland.  By the 1950’s the decrease in mussel populations in the Gulf was noticeable. However, fishery managers thought dredging might actually stimulate mussel growth, and that reefs would recover if they were given a break, but temporary closures and a reduction in the number of fishing boats did not help.

A mussel dredge
Mussel dredge 1960’s (note the size of the mussels!). Photograph by Jack Strongman. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19371110-49-4

…fishery managers thought dredging might stimulate mussel growth and that reefs would recover if they were temporarily closed…

Green weight of mussels extracted from mussel dredging the Hauraki Gulf. L J Paul (2012)
Map of the historical mussel beds of the inner Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames
Map of the inner Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames, showing the area worked by the green-lipped mussel dredge fishery and the position of the main mussel beds. L J Paul (2012). Redrawn from Reid (1969).

Despite a lack of harvesting pressure for the last 50 years the damaged reefs have not naturally recovered, and the seabed has changed to mud, with large quantities of fine sediments added to the Gulf from forest and land clearance as the Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland and Waikato regions have developed.   

Barren sea floor
Barren sea floor of the Hauraki Gulf. Photo: Shaun Lee

Sub-tidal mussel reefs are now functionally extinct in the Hauraki Gulf. But, what does this mean for the Gulf? Find out more about what mussels do. Learn more about our work in bringing the reefs back.

Paul, L. J. (2012)  “A history of the Firth of Thames dredge fishery for mussels: use and abuse of a coastal resource”, New Zealand Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Report No. 94.