River Ecosystems Declining Say Anglers

by Tony Orman

The public’s trout fishery is severely declining in a number of rivers due to a decline in both flow and water quality says a national trout fishing advocacy. In his annual report retiring president of the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers Graham Carter told the recent annual meeting in Wellington that chemicals, dairy cow nitrate leaching and the demand for irrigation were devastating the natural bio-diversity.

“It’s not just trout but native fish and salmon that also suffer from the depleted flows and degraded water quality. The total ecosystem shows alarming symptoms of a disturbing decline to the point of potential collapse,”

Central, local and regional governments were all failing to address the problem, he added.

Graham Carter fired an arrow at Federated Farmers, saying the organisation was too often in denial and in reaction, portrayed trout as “evil, introduced fish.”

“It isn’t just the introduced cows and introduced humans with their overdosing of fertiliser, nitrate laden runoff and irrigation water grabs to grow pasture in low rainfall areas like the Mackenzie basin and Canterbury Plains,” he said. “Urban areas also need to face up to their discharges of sewage, toxic chemicals and stormwater into rivers and coastlines.”

Sewage and stormwater often contained a cocktail of chemicals from bleaches, detergents, antibiotics, drugs and even contraceptives. Chlorine had been shown by a Fish and Game study in 1971 to be highly lethal in very minute quantities to trout and no doubt native fish. The effect on indigenous fish raised the question as to the Department of Conservation’s whereabouts.

Graham Carter said the Federation would not generalise by criticising all farmers, many were responsible stewards of their land, but the advent of some current farm practices and corporate dairy farming under the previous government had been a disaster for the publlcs’ waterways.

Also responsible for the deteriorating state of rivers and streams was the monoculture of plantation pine forestry, with depleted flows and a profound effect on in-stream acidity. At clear felling time, poor practice resulted in a runoff of silt and debris that smothered stream and riverbeds and vital bottom fauna insect larvae. Insecure slash washed into rivers and streams, compounding the problems. 

Graham Carter said these views were verified by the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report which painted a dismal portrait of the state of the public’s rivers and streams.

“The Federation will continue to urge central government to step up to the mark and all three coalition partners to honour their commitment to clean up rivers from their deteriorated state,” he added.

Graham Carter said the Minister of Conservation should be addressing the declining habitat for fish rather than blaming trout as “ravenous predators” of native fish such as whitebait. Trout had co-existed with whitebait and eels for over a century with no ill effects until the recent habitat degradation and uncontrolled commercial fishing occurred.

Instead, the Minister had tried to introduce an Indigenous Fish Bill which was a thinly disguised attempt to blame trout for the demise of native fish.

“This bill appeared to be driven by the current Minister of Conservation with her adherence to the anti-introduced dogma.”

© Arnold River, West Cost. Rivers in crisis?

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