Fisheries campaign condemned by water group

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By ROBYN BRISTOW

An advocacy group claims North Canterbury Fish & Game is deliberately inciting fear through a campaign that seeks to link a purported decline in fisheries to intensive farming.

It wants the the Department of Conservation to investigate Fish & Game’s actions and review the legislation governing it.

With winter approaching, it also wants the winter fishing ban in North Canterbury to be rescinded.

Rural Advocacy Network spokesman Jamie McFadden, in a letter to the director-general of Conservation Lou Sanson, says one sector of the community is being targeted by what he calls a deception.

He claims it is not just confined to the North Canterbury region, but is part of a national campaign by Fish & Game NZ.

“We have no issue with Fish & Game raising concerns about the impact of farming on freshwater quality,” Mr McFadden says.

“However, deliberately inciting fear in the general public through a campaign of misinformation and deception is inappropriate, particularly from a statutory organisation,” says Mr McFadden.

“We are formally requesting that the approval of the North Canterbury winter fishing ban be rescinded and the Department of Conservation, as the statutory overseer of Fish & Game, conduct an investigation into the operations of Fish & Game.”

Mr McFadden says a review of the legislation governing Fish & Game is well overdue, particularly in light of the “unrestrained inappropriate behaviour of Fish & Game and the number of separate councils attracting audits”.

He says in his letter that, in early 2016, North Canterbury Fish & Game launched a nationwide media campaign claiming the North Canterbury freshwater fishery was in crisis and directed the blame at intensive farming.

In March 2016, North Canterbury Fish & Game sought and received approval from the Department of Conservation (DOC) to close all river fisheries east of State Highway 1 in the North Canterbury region from May to September.

Mr McFadden says the approval was given in the belief that Fish & Game surveys were showing a decline in the freshwater fishery.

Through the Ombudsman, it was established that there were no surveys or fish-count data to support North Canterbury Fish & Game’s original claims.

Mr McFadden says a belated attempt was made through a phone survey by Fish & Game, which he says was a contrived attempt to provide “justification” for the already-approved winter fishing ban.

Following this, there was a drift dive by Fish & Game which claimed trout in the lower section of the Hurunui River were in lower numbers and poor health, he says.

However, as this was the first drift dive conducted and there was nothing to compare it with, so the claims of lower fish numbers and poorer health “was a fabrication”.

“The drift dive report noted that the original intent of the lower reaches fish-count was to try to link trout numbers to farm pollution from the Culverden basin,” Mr McFadden said in his letter.

“Again, this shows North Canterbury Fish & Game seeking a predetermined outcome in a deliberate attack on the farming sector.

“The drift dive results did not provide the answers North Canterbury Fish & Game were seeking so these fish counts were discontinued.”

He says the advocacy group has tried to resolve its issues with North Canterbury Fish & Game over its “misleading and unsubstantiated claims about the freshwater fishery”.

However, North Canterbury Fish & Game had repeatedly ignored most emails and failed to answer the group’s questions, he said.