Time for Fish and Game to put up or shut up

Last year Fish & Game sought and received approval from the Department of Conservation (DoC) to place a winter fishing ban on all North Canterbury rivers below State Highway 1.

At the time, Fish & Game claimed the North Canterbury freshwater fishery was in crisis and it was because of farming.

Both DoC and the Rural Advocacy Network have requested the evidence supporting these claims. After 18 months no evidence has been forthcoming. DoC now realise they have been misled and have said they will not renew the fishing ban unless Fish & Game provide evidence.

Rural Advocacy Network spokesman, Jamie McFadden says:

"Earlier this year I attended a public meeting in Rangiora organised by Fish and Game where the fishing ban was discussed. I presented our submission challenging the lack of evidence behind the fishing ban, particularly for the Hurunui and Waiau rivers. A show of hands was taken and the clear majority of the 70 attendees felt the ban should not apply to these rivers. Of those who fished the Hurunui and Waiau the majority thought these were healthy fisheries.

"Fish & Game's argument that having these two rivers open would shift winter fishing pressure was not supported by attendees.

"What we also learned at the meeting was that there was thought to be an issue with the Rakaia River but more research was needed to understand what was happening with the fishery. It was one angler's concern with the Rakaia River sea run trout fishery that set off the fishing ban process 18 months ago.

"The main issue raised for the Waimakariri River was the numbers of people bait fishing in the lower reaches.

"Clearly there are a range of factors affecting our freshwater fishery and increasing fishing pressure, particularly near Christchurch, is one of them.

"A local fishing guide has for several years been undertaking the annual trout spawning surveys in the Waimakariri River. This year he reported better numbers than have ever been seen and some superb stream improvements by many farmers - the future is bright.

"In late autumn I checked the middle reaches of the Hurunui River catchment and photographed numerous shoals of 10-20 trout. In one pool alone I counted 65 good-sized healthy trout.

"A balanced report on the state of our freshwater fishery would acknowledge there are some healthy fisheries, concerns with some other fisheries and a range of factors affecting both. It is disappointing that Fish & Game has made no attempt to correct their misinformation in the media.

"Many farming families are Fish & Game licence holders and enjoy the recreational opportunities our rivers provide. Farmers want to know what they need to do to fix any water quality problems they are causing.

"There are many examples of farmers actively engaging in improving water quality and undertaking stream enhancements. Farmers want to work with organisations like Fish & Game but the continual attacks on farmers undermine the ability to achieve this.

"We would like to see Fish & Game publicly drop the anti-farming broad brush 'dirty dairy' campaign, correct their misinformation in the media and develop a more constructive approach to freshwater issues."

Jamie McFadden, who is on the Federated Farmers North Canterbury executive, is also chairman of the newly-formed Rural Advocacy Network based in Canterbury that represents rural people and businesses on a wide range of issues.