by Tony Orman
“The sport of trout fishing belongs to all New Zealanders.” That was the first sentence in a chapter entitled “Trout Farming” in a book I wrote back in 1979 entitled “The Sport in Fishing.”
Trout farming was a big political issue back in 1972, the year of a general election. National were in government and Labour had been in Opposition benches for a couple of decades. The concept of trout farming i.e. producing trout for sale as food, became government policy.
Now 1972 was probably years before many or most of today’s trout fishers were born, so with an election later this year, it’s timely to briefly recap events of that time.
I first became aware of the dangers when about 1970, David Pike the field officer for the Hawkes Bay Acclimatisation Society warned me about the concept. So I sat down and wrote to overseas trout authorities in the USA, UK, Australia and some European countries. The messages I received warned of the detrimental effects and the short comings of trout farming.
I learned of others in other parts of New Zealand who were also uneasy or opposed to government’s concept of trout farming.
John B Henderson, president of the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association, was not only a sporting hunter but also a keen and expert dry fly fisherman. He realised that outdoor sports like fishing and hunting are intertwined by that vital common thread of being a public resource and in public ownership. In 1970 he wrote, “Many —-were likewise quick to realise the implications in the proposals to commercialise trout – that here was another case of the ‘quick quid’ philosophy about to overrule all rational considerations and degrade the sportsman’s heritage still further, merely for private gain.”
Ducked for cover
The government’s Marine Department suddenly realised opposition by trout anglers was gathering momentum. Government ducked for cover by pushing the bill to a parliamentary select committee. Meanwhile Labour’s leader Norman Kirk, himself a keen outdoor sportsman in his younger days no doubt was watching the developments with interest. I chanced to know well a Labour MP Ian Brooks of Marlborough. I had given him questions to ask in Parliament of the Minister of Lands Duncan McIntyre and Minister of Fisheries Alan McCready. The questions were probing and “loaded” and exasperated Duncan McIntyre and he lost his temper – a most unusual outburst from the normally urbane Hastings MP. In another case in Parliament, minister Alan McCready exploded at Ian Brooks and blamed John Henderson for supplying the Marlborough MP with questions to fire. I thanked John for taking the ‘rap’ for me.
I then asked Ian Brooks if he could arrange an interview for me with Labour Opposition leader Norman Kirk. So it was that I met Norman Kirk in the lobby of Parliament. The big man sat down after introductions and said, “Tell me why you’re opposed to trout farming.”
I did so moving in the course of the 10 minute conversation through the public ownership of the trout resource, the problems with trout farming such as organic pollution from farms, disease outbreaks in the crowded ponds, marginally uncertain economics and of incentives to poaching and black markets if a dollar value was placed on trout and so on.
Norman Kirk listened attentively and then thanked me for coming to Parliament and said he’d “be in touch.”
A couple of weeks later Norman Kirk announced Labour was opposed to trout farming.
Meanwhile the National government introduced the trout farming bill to Parliament and it had a stormy passage. I wrote “The National MP for Rotorua Harry Lapwood crossed the floor of Parliament and voted against the bill. — sensationally the vote was tied at 37 all—Only the casting vote of the Speaker of the House National MP Roy Jack saved the government vote.”
The battle was on.
I found apart from Hawkes Bay there were others leading the fight in various regions. Stan Thompson in Rotorua, Budge Hintz at Taupo, Herbie Mier in Waimarino, Noel Voyce in Canterbury, Mike Adams in Hawkes Bay and others led the onslaught in their respective regions. Anglers had no other option than to make it an election issue.
I had public clashes in the Hawkes Bay newspapers with Hastings MP and Minister of Lands Duncan McIntyre over trout farming, Save Manapouri and selling public land at Upukeroa, Te Anau to a rich American. The National Party were angry. The local president bailed me up against the BNZ building in Heretaunga Street and loudly chastised me for making “scurrilous” attacks on his local MP Duncan McIntyre who was loudly championing trout farming. The verbal torrent I received did not work so then the National party secretary asked me to his office where over a cup of coffee, invited me to stop my public opposition and join the party and influence National policy “from within.”
I declined the invitation.
In Hawkes Bay, the Hastings and District Anglers and Napier’s Scinde Angling Club led by Norrie Day, campaigned strongly. Election night was a shock result. Hasting MP Duncan McIntyre was thrown out by voters. Taupo swung to Labour as did other regional seats where anglers spoke out. Labour led by Norman Kirk won a landslide victory.
In the post mortems by newspapers, editorials among them the “NZ Herald” and “Hawkes Bay Herald Tribune”, referred to trout anglers having spoken loud and clear and identified trout fishing public’s vote and trout farming as a strong factor in the government’s defeat.
I had earlier made submissions along with many others, to the Select Committee. Quoting numerous overseas fisheries scientist my submissions went to 40 pages and took over an hour to present to the hearing. That “over an hour” contrasts to today’s select committees where a token five or 10 minutes is given.
Among the experts I quoted was Ben Schley of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
He said “For some reason or other everybody seems to think that a great deal of money can be made by producing trout for the commercial market—-NZ would beg making a big mistake in attempting to set up commercial trout production.”
Disease was a major concern for Ben Schley. He outlined the disease problems with diseases like myxosoma cerebralis, which had forced commercial farms to close. His warnings were echoed by others. Denmark described trout farming as a “severe attack on the environment” while in Britain, UDN (ulcerative dermal necrosis) had spread through farms and even into the wild. Another disease IPN (infectious pancreatic necrosis) had swept through trout farms in East Anglia.
As Ben Schley said trout farming is a “capital intensive, high risk, marginally economic venture.”
The 1972 election was noted by political circles. Prime Minister in the 1970s and into the 1980s, Rob Muldoon was lobbied by pro-trout farm interests but flatly refused to risk another battle like 1972.
© Norman Kirk