Opinion by Tony Orman
Currently Fisheries NZ has a discussion document open for public submissions, in which it is proposed to list perch as a “pest fish” – contrary to the current legal status of perch as a “sporting fish.”
Over the years there has been an on-going periodic moves to list perch as “pests.”
I recall a couple of years ago I sat in a meeting where a draft Regional Pest Management Strategy was presented by some Marlborough District Council officers.
It was almost bizarre- perhaps it was. For instance listed as a major threat was the wallaby. Now wallabies don’t exist in Marlborough. But there it was- a major pest threat.
“Oh they could be if they got here,” was the response.
Yes the same might be said of rhinoceros, hippopotamus or cougars.
It lends strong weight to the growing public opinion that New Zealand’s governments-central and local – have been and still are in the grip of a “pest phobia.” But what caught my eye in the Marlborough District Council pest document under “noxious fish” was perch. I checked with Nelson-Marlborough Fish and Game.
“Closest perch populations to Marlborough are West Coast,” came the reply.
There are no perch in Marlborough or Nelson.
Besides perch were and are regarded as a sporting fish, an acclimatised fish under the jurisdiction of Fish and Game.
To place perch in a “noxious fish” category is ignorant and reinforces the “pest phobia” suspicion.
Problem is the “pest phobia” activity gives rise to mis-spending of public money and a raft of bureaucrats all for a totally unjustified purpose.
My first steps as an angler in the 1950s were on perch. They were in the Mangaone River that in those days flowed on the western side of Palmerston North and into the Manawatu River near Longburn. Today the curving course of the Mangaone of the 1950s is gone, destroyed by urban sprawl and straightening and channelising the once magical stream into a sterile ditch.
In the 1950s, my father and I used minnows, which we swung out on greenheart fly rods. Sometimes we used worms. The perch were mostly small but I did catch two or three monsters of 1.5 kgs and more. Those big perch were usually solitary or in pairs, the smaller in shoals.
The minnows we used were names not found in sport shops today. The Green Willesenden was a favourite but we also made minnow bodies from butterfly chrysalis hanging from tree branches.
As a boy I had a book written by a UK angling guru called Bernard Venables. In his book set out with text and “comic book” styled sequences of drawings, a Mr Crabtree was shown teaching youngsters how to fish for UK species such as tench, pike, chub and others that included perch. Theart work was by Bernard Venables himself. The color paintings were great, so skilfully done, and I would gaze for long periods admiring the perch one, because those were the fish I angled for in the Mangaone.,
The perch is a handsome splendidly coloured fish, with a defiant, pugnacious air about it.The bottom edge of the caudal fin is bright red-orange, as are the anal and pectoral fins. Several dark bands run down their sides. These features make perch easy to recognize.
Like myself, many a boy was set upon the road to becoming a lifelong angler by catching a perch.
New Zealand perch were imported in the late 19th century, from Tasmanian stocks that before that came from England. They became well established in Otago and Southland, but also occur in many other parts of New Zealand, such as around Auckland, the Waikato and in west coast coastal lakes south of Taranaki, South Island’s West Coast, Canterbury, Southland and other places..
I’ve caught them in the Manawatu River, in ox-bow lagoons of the lower Manawatu such as south of Longburn, in the Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay, Otago and Canterbury. I’ve caught them in the better trout rivers such as the Pomohaka, Manawatu, Ruamahunga, lower Taieri and one or two others.
Perch have firm white flesh, that is sweet eating. Perch are ideal sports fish for youngsters because they are relatively easy to catch. Most perch in New Zealand are about 1 kg in weight, but not infrequently bigger.
Perch prefer slow-flowing and still-water habitats.
Perch No Pest
Are perch damaging to trout fisheries? I doubt it. When I fished the Manawatu as a kid, perch were in the Manawatu and the Manawatu was chocker with trout, with incredible evening rises. And the Ruamahunga and Pomohaka where I’ve caught perch, were when I fished them, excellent trout rivers. The best evening rise I ever experienced anywhere, was on the Ruamahunga, near Gladstone.
Many years ago somewhere about 1950, in response to angler claims that perch in Lake Maherangi, Otago, were eating trout, a study was done to examine the relationship. That became plural, i.e. relationships as shags entered the equation.
Basically the findings were:-
- Shags fed on perch particularly perch fry, tending to divert the birds away from trout.
- Trout fed heavily on perch fry. Perch lay eggs in massive clusters on underwater debris and thousands of fry hatch.
- Perch did occasionally prey on young trout.
In a few words, overall trout benefited from a co-existence with perch.
In 2016 the authors of an Otago University “study” described perch as “invasive,” arguing they preyed on native fish such as whitebait. Now to me, that is absolute nonsense. Remember perch were introduced back in 1870. So they’ve had almost 150 years to evolve into the ecosystem and food chains, just as European humans and their associated sheep, cattle, potatoes and pumpkins, blackbirds and bumblebees have.
In a few words, it’s now an evolved 21st century ecosystem.
Perch here for almost 150 years can hardly be classed as invasive now. But beware terms like “invasive species”, “predators” and “pests” are buzz words in some academic circles and certainly in the bowels of bureaucracy where often empires are spawned and jobs created around the “pest-predator” myths.
I don’t know whether Fish and Game NZ and in particular the Nelson-Marlborough Fish and Game objected to the Marlborough District Council’s classification of perch as a “pest fish”. They should have. I would be disappointed if they didn’t!
You see the perch is a great little sports fish and as stated earlier, especially for youngsters. Species like perch may become very important in the face of dwindling flows in rivers and warmer temperatures with the climate cycle.
In the broader picture, it seems so misplaced that Fisheries NZ is dabbling into areas of ignorance and prejudice based on a “pest phobia”, when the New Zealand saltwater fishery is in a mess, riddled with the market force driven quota management system, (QMS) and it’s consequences of an industry plagued by corporate company domination, political party donations, fish dumping, poor surveillance of commercial boats (camera issue) and a ministry and succession of fisheries ministers beholden to the commercial corporate fishing industry. The end result is over-fished stocks.
Blue Cod Bungling
Here in Marlborough the Marlborough Sounds blue cod resource has undergone bureaucratic bungling, poor methodology in the “science”, ludicrous laws (slot rule) that destroyed tens of thousands of blue cod breeding females, discrimination against the recreational public and after seven years of undue harsh measures on recreational fishers, an almost complete lack of scientific research to ascertain management fundamentals as it where and when blue cod spawn.
Meanwhile the NZ consumer pays $60 a kg for blue cod on Blenheim supermarket shelves.
Other species are struggling with examples being severely depleted kahawai and tarakihi stocks while Fisheries NZ looks away and wants to set up species such as perch as a pest.
It is a case of “Nero fiddles while Rome burns.”
Fisheries NZ should be using its meagre talents to focus on much needed review of the QMS, shedding the shackles of corporate domination, reordering its priorities to where the urgent needs are and bringing sea fish to the consumer at an affordable price.
Footnote:The ministry’s proposal can be seen here.