The late Bill Benfield, conservationist, author and former chairman of the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of NZ, was a passionate and forthright advocate for the environment. In 2014, he addressed the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers AGM on the subject of the state of the public’s rivers. His views are just as timely six years later as all three coalition political parties in the government pledged at the 2017 election, to clean up the deteriorating state of rivers and streams, both in quality and flow. Here is an abridged version of his talk.
The responsibility for dirty rivers and the onus to clean them up lies with the whole of New Zealand.
We ignore at our peril the real culprit – 100 percent greedy dirty Aotearoa.
Intense focus on claims about dirty dairy, while very valid in a number of regions, tended to obscure other contributing factors to the alarming situation of over 60 percent of rivers being unfit for swimming.
Dairying or not, the rivers trouble starts with their passage from the mountains to the sea. For instance in river headwaters, insecticide 1080 – a super toxin – is spread by air. Not strictly an agricultural impact is Aotearoa’s bizarre and almost unique conservation by whole ecosystem poisoning in the pious hope the good will survive and the baddies die. It has a major impact on the insect food chain of both birds and fish.
Further downstream in rivers, herbicide sprays are used on riverside vegetation which adds to the chemical burden on the waterway.
Besides dairying there are other agricultural impacts that New Zealand seems to be in denial about. Pasture cleaning for porina moth and manuka beetle involves aerial or ground spraying around four litres/Ha of the DDT substitute, diazinon added to the destruction. Diazinon was banned out-right in the EU and its use severely restricted in the US. Yet in New Zealand there is no restriction and it ends up in rivers.
What’s more its use is increasing with conversion of tussock country to ryegrass pasture and a consequent loss of bio-diversity.
In New Zealand, farmers had been allowed to take, for free, the accretion land of rivers adjoining their properties and fence them off. What was once for the public good, is now private. Flood control now had to occur in the actual river channel and local bodies employed cross-blading and ripping, destroying runs and pools and sometimes less invasive methods such as localised shingle extraction.
As the main players in this are the state and its agencies, they have created a whole science industry devoted to concealing the true nature of the damage being inflicted on the whole environment, even the forests.
Also detrimental are industries that while seemingly clean, often have quite insidious industrial impacts, such as rivers used for cooling processes will receive the waste heat as a pollutant.
Towns too, were a major contributor to poor water quality, with town discharges at times being untreated storm water and sometimes barely treated sewage.
The trout fishing public has a responsibility to be active and engage with the wider society on the issue.
Tell them that anglers’ pursuit of clean rivers is not a selfish pursuit of anglers conscious only of their trout, but a deep concern about an erosion of the environment that affects the whole community.
© Bill Benfield – “anglers’ deep concern for the environment”