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Dear Sir,

American fly fisher Howard West (Flylife issue 95, Autumn 2019) has called a ‘spade a spade’ in his Short Casts contribution “New Zealand - Better Go Soon!”.

Long time trout anglers have noticed a steady decline in numbers and size of trout over the decades. The trend has not escaped the awareness of trout fisheries managers Fish and Game who do a generally pretty good job in trying to combat threats such as dairying expansion with irrigation demands and nitrate leaching into aquifers and streams and silt-laden runoff from commercial forestry clear felling. On the other hand, Fish and Game is hampered by statutory obligation that under an Act of Parliament makes the organisation directly responsible to government via the Minister of Conservation. Many of the threats come from government of government-backed agencies.

Howard West identified 1080 poison and extensive spreading of the toxic baits over public lands and many wilderness rivers of trophy trout quality fly fishing. No one knows the effect of 1080 on the aquatic ecosystem. Research is meagre and the research that has been done has been commissioned by the Department of Conservation, one of the major spreaders of the poison. The poison drops are done in the name of making New Zealand predator-free by 2050, a bizarre, unrealistic, unattainable pipe dream.

Howard West identified also the declining insect hatches, something which experienced Kiwi fly fishers have also noted over the last 50 years or so. New Zealand’s trout fisheries are heading rapidly towards a crisis stage.

The economic value of the trout fishery has been estimated unofficially at towards a billion dollars. Yet successive governments promote the very threats to the cleanliness and flow of the public’s rivers. The previous National government’s Prime Minister John Key set out to double New Zealand’s primary exports by 2025 with a strong, no-limits emphasis on dairying expansion. Consequently dairying - often mega sized farms by corporate interests - have been set up in low rainfall areas such as the Mackenzie basin and Canterbury. In low rainfall areas, demands for irrigation needs are maximised while nitrates leach into the aqua-systems.

The new Labour-led government has pledged to clean up rivers but it has pledged also to plant a “billion trees” many being commercial forestry with a regime of clear felling at harvest time and mucky runoff.

Congratulations to Howard West for exposing the imminent crisis confronting New Zealand’s once magnificent trout fishery. It is still very good in places but in others not so good. A state of denial by vested interests will serve no purpose. Only by recognising the problem and tackling the causes, can a positive outcome be realised.

The NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers is an “apolitical” advocacy set up in 1974. It has no statutory obligation and is politically independent.

Graham Carter

President NZ Federation Freshwater Anglers