Fishing for trouble

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The country’s anglers look likely to join hunters in their opposition to actions being planned by Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.

The hunters are up in arms over a  move to cull 9000 thousand Thar from the South Island high country.

And the anglers are concerned about a Bill which is now before a Select Committee which has the potential to have a big impact in trout fishing.

The two political parties most sympathetic to hunting and fishing, National and NZ First, have been caught out by the rapidly growing opposition.

Naitonal’s conservation spokesperson, Sarah Dowie, has been running a campaign against the Thar cull in Parliament but the party agreed to the introduction of the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill 

At its introduction on September 4 it sounded innocuous enough.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said it made “technical changes” to the Conservation Act to provide better tools to manage both indigenous fish and noxious fish like koi carp.

“It fixes some uncertainties and gaps in the law and will enable better regulations,” she said.

.National’s Conservation spokesperson Sarah Dowie warned that the party might have some reservations about the Bill, mainly about its impact on private property rights.

She admitted to some enthusiasm for its basic purpose albeit that she and the Minister seemed to be at cross purposes over the fate of the longfin eel which Sage said was endangered.

“She mentioned the longfin eel before and, actually, freshwater-wise they're one of my favourites, albeit very prehistoric looking,” said Dowie.

“They may not be as cuddly as, obviously, some of our native birds but they're certainly unique to New Zealand.

“If you watch any of the fishing shows, they've often held up as quite a significant and unique beast in New Zealand.

“But not only that, they're a valuable part of our commercial fishery.”

But Fish and Game had commissioned a report from former Prime Minister and QC, Sir Geoffrey Palmer on the Bill and his verdict was not as comforting as Sage’s speech.

Palmer pointed out that the Bill allowed the Minister to promulgate freshwater management plans which would over-ride regional Sports Fish and Game management plans.

“For example, a Freshwater Fisheries Management Plan could identify the restoration of indigenous freshwater fish as an over-arching priority objective - either nationally or in a particular area,” said Sir Geoffrey.

“ That objective could be implemented by DOC requiring trout and salmon to be removed from particular water bodies in order to give priority to indigenous fisheries.  

“In that case, the objective in the Freshwater Fisheries Management Plan would prevail even if a water body has previously been identified by the Minister as a significant trout and salmon habitat in a Sports Fish and Game Management Plan.”

And he said that similar situations had already arisen where Fish and Game had not been consulted about fish and game management plans had been ignored in Treaty settlements.

Sir Geoffrey also found that the Bill allowed Treaty settlements to override restrictions on w someone (presumably a beneficiary of the settlement) on taking, possessing or selling fish.

In effect, this could exempt particular iwi from all current freshwater fishing regulations.

But what is likely to antagonise the trout fishing lobby even further is a provision which would allow the sale of trout thus paving the way for the creation of trout farms.

Fish and Game is encouraging its supporters to lobby their MPs.

A similar campaign last week against the Thar cull saw a petition against the cull gather 20,000 signatures in 17 hours.

It is expected the backlash against the trout bill will be even more intense.

An indication of how effective the fishing lobby can be came in 2013 when National proposed to limit recreational fishers’ snapper catches off the east coast of the North Island from nine fish a day to three.

Then Fisheries Minister Nathan Guy was forced by public pressure and also an incipient rebellion from inside the National caucus to back down and restore the quota to seven.

The random card with the current Bill could be NZ First. Internal Affairs Minister and NZ First MP, Tracey Martin said during the September 4 debate that the party had concerns about the Bill.

“110,000 people buy trout fishing licences every year,” she said.

“We do need to make sure that when we make some rules over here, we don't have unintended consequences over there. “

Martin argued that the Select Committee should listen to organisations like Fish and Game and be prepared to make changes to the Bill.

However, Labour MP, Deborah Russell, was less supportive of Fish and Game.

“If we look at what Fish & Game's objectives are, their objectives are "to manage, maintain, and enhance" sports fish and game birds," she said.

“In other words, it's an objective that conflicts with the objective of protecting our indigenous fish.

“That's something we need to think about long and hard. “

But she may have hit the core of the political debate on this Bill which could end up pitting conservationists against anglers.

Past experience suggests that could be a tough contest.

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