DOC and Fish and Game NZ – Conspicuous by their Absence at Crisis Time

by Andi Cockroft,
Chairman Council of Outdoor  Recreation Assns of NZ (CORANZ)

            I  do not currently hold a trout fishing licence but as a keen conservationist and outdoor recreationalist, I take a keen and strong interest in the environment and in particular water, rivers and streams.

            I have watched the energetic admirable efforts of the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers and in particular the research work of its chairman Dr Peter Trolove that has revealed alarming nitrate levels in water, both underground aquifer and rivers and streams in Canterbury and South Canterbury.

            Research by the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers (NZFFA) has revealed unacceptably high levels of nitrate pollution in rivers and streams across Canterbury.

            NZFFA president Dr Peter Trolove said the massive increase in the amount of irrigated farmland across Canterbury in recent decades has resulted in a comparable reduction in the region’s water quantity and quality from over-allocation of water and nitrate pollution mostly from corporate dairy farming. 

            The stimulus for investigation was in declining salmon and trout populations.

            “The region’s recreational fisheries at large braided river mouths and in smaller lowland spring fed streams and rivers have seen trout numbers decline to near extinction,” said Peter Trolove.

            The loss of native and recreational fish from Canterbury’s river mouth lagoons appeared related to lower residual flows and the loss of variable flows due to excessive water abstraction for irrigation. But it’s not just aquatic life under threat. A Danish study of 2.7 million people pointed to a direct link between bowel cancer and high nitrate levels in drinking water. Alarmingly Canterbury and South Canterbury have the highest bowel cancer levels in New Zealand and listen for it, in the world.

            The Labour government promised in 2017 and 2019 to urgently address the worsening state of rivers and streams. Some 80 percent of people in polls of public concerns rated the state of rivers as a big issue. National don’t escape critical scrutiny either. In 2010 the John Key-led National government sacked the democratically elected ECan 14 member council and replaced it with state commissioners. Critics of the government’s “communistic state control” said the move’s objective seemed to facilitate further, both extensive and intensive dairying, particularly by corporate ventures.

            The NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers is a totally voluntary organisation comprising individuals from the trout and salmon fishing public. The Department of Conservation entrusted by statute to safeguard native fish populations, seabird life and the environment has been completely silent. So for that matter has another statutory organisation Fish and Game NZ and indeed regional Fish and Game regions.

            Ironically Fish and Game is under review, administered by ironically again, the Department of Conservation. 

            Where are DOC and Fish and Game NZ? 

            By law they are meant to be strong guardians of rivers, streams and fish populations and associated wildlife valleys.

            An alarming aspect is that the Federation of Freshwater Anglers stands alone except for later involvement by Greenpeace.

            It’s not that the issue of declining freshwater ecosystems and fish life is anything new.

            Twenty two years ago, Wayne McCallum, North Canterbury Fish and Game’s Environment Officer, wrote in the November 2000 issue of the magazine ”Southern Fishing and Boating” about lowland trout rivers and said that “on careful study, there appears to be more than a problem. Rather the evidence points to a wholesale crisis.”

            He said “the crisis is demonstrated most graphically to anglers in the decline of trout densities across a mounting list of New Zealand’s lowland waterways.”

            Wayne McCallum cited two examples, Canterbury’s Selwyn River and the Horokiwi Stream, north of Wellington, a stream that was the subject of scientist Radway Allen’s classic study of a “typical New Zealand trout stream.” Both had undergone severe declines in trout numbers with trout becoming “non-existent”. Yet in the Horokiwi from Radway Allen’s observation in the year 1950, there were “70 fish per cubic 100 metres.”

            “The examples of the Selwyn and Horokiwi cannot be regarded as exceptions. Rather they appear to be just two instances of a growing list of degraded lowland waterways in New Zealand,” continued Wayne McCallum.

            Wayne McCallum’s expert views received little or no comment. The impression was that Fish and Game and North Canterbury in particular, did not want to know about it. 

            There was silence tantamount to a “a state of denial” 

            Wayne McCallum obviously felt the same. 

            He wrote “perhaps the biggest factor in causing frustration is the failure to acknowledge the existence of a crisis at all.”

            DOC and Fish and Game need to realise they are fundamentally public service organisations. They have a strong duty to the public who respectively pay the bills by way of taxes and sport fishing licences.

            To be silent, mute, inertia personified is a dereliction of responsibility and duty.

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6 Responses to DOC and Fish and Game NZ – Conspicuous by their Absence at Crisis Time

  1. Jack Tuhawaiki says:

    The Ministry of Health has been in denial too, batting away the nitrate/bowel cancer link as evidenced by the Danish study. I understand a US study showed the same link.
    Andi, you make a very valid point that these organisations are public services and the C.E.Os, staff etc., are public servants. They are paid or elected by the public.

  2. Herbert Ingham JonesQSM says:

    As a keen trout fisher traveling to nearly every nook & cranny warerway of NZ to fish Since 1967 i have witnessed firsthand the deterioration of water quality with rapid decline of aquatic life for over 50 yrs.Much of it can be traced back by following the money to the dairy industry.
    Sadly, it’s about to get a whole lot worse when 3 Waters legislation leaves the control & fate of freshwater in the unscientific incapable hands of tribal IWI and their dodgy maori knowledge of matauranga Tikanga.
    Remembering that tribal corporations are heavily involved in dairy farming,decisions about water will be weighted to advantage maori economic development.

  3. Justice Will B. Dunn. says:

    When the environment really and truly needs leadership and the govt to step up and say enough enough all we hear is crickets. When there is a cool conference for virtue seekers on the other side of the world that will achieve nothing but hobble the country, where you can glad hand your smarmy, sanctimonious mates on the taxpayers dime, they’ll sign us away like a broken down nag at the knackers yard. Hypocrites one and all.

  4. Bridget Orman says:

    I fervently hope that those public bodies named in this article get to read it and follow up promptly with some decisive action to remedy the situation. No point is saying it’s too hard, just get on and start making changes. It will take bravery and determination to overcome the obstacles of corporate power and vested interest, but it must happen or we’ll all be in trouble, including said stumbling blocks!

  5. Dave says:

    It seems as though every one of these organizations that are meant to step up when needed is just not there now. There is time left yet but it is running out fast and when this is all over guess where the finger will point, so come chaps, grow some balls and do something.

  6. Bud jones JonesQSM says:

    Andi, above here mentions trout numbers at near extinction in some low land streams. I can concur as my local lowland MangatainokaRver valley is heavily dairy farmed & was once ’60’s/’70’s choked with trout. So much so that it was difficult to fish as spooked trout scooted about in panic frightening all the fish in a pool.A literal embarrassment of fish numbers!
    Last time I was there in perfectly fine sunny low water conditions,where with the aid of polaroid glasses i could see “everything”.Over 2 days of hard concentrated “work” I did a “survey” of 13 km of river & saw 2 fish, caught nothing.Aquatic life had disappeared.

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