Warnings of Trout fishing Decline Have Been Ignored

by Tony Orman
Many trout anglers have noticed a decline in trout fishing over the last couple of decades. So did at least one Fish and Game scientist who spoke out publicly.
But their warnings have not been heeded. 
Twenty years ago, Wayne McCallum, North Canterbury Fish and Game’s Environment Officer, wrote in the November 2000 issue of the magazine ”Southern Fishing and Boating” about lowland trout rivers and said that “on careful study, there appears to be more than a problem. Rather the evidence points to a wholesale crisis.”
He said “the crisis is demonstrated most graphically to anglers in the decline of trout densities across a mounting list of New Zealand’s lowland waterways.”
Wayne McCallum cited two examples, Canterbury’s Selwyn River and the Horokiwi Stream, north of Wellington, a stream that was the subject of scientist Radway Allen’s classic study of a “typical New Zealand trout stream.” Both had undergone severe declines in trout numbers with trout becoming “non-existent”. Yet in the Horokiwi from Radway Allen’s observation in the year 1950, there were “70 fish per cubic 100 metres.”
“The examples of the Selwyn and Horokiwi cannot be regarded as exceptions. Rather they appear to be just two instances of a growing list of degraded lowland waterways in New Zealand,” continued Wayne McCallum.
State of Denial
Wayne McCallum’s expert views received little or no comment. The impression was that Fish and Game and North Canterbury in particular, did not want to know about it. 
There was “a state of denial” 
Wayne McCallum obviously felt the same. He wrote “perhaps the biggest factor in causing frustration is the failure to acknowledge the existence of a crisis at all.”
Six years ago, a friend Bud, an experienced fly fisherman, who had made regular annual trips over 43 years from the Wairarapa to the Maruia River in the South Island, reflected on his 2013 trip as his“worst ever” of 43 years.
“Over a period of 43 years I have fished the Maruia and my recent visit of 11 days, despite perfect weather for spotting and fishing, was the poorest ever.” 
Bud told the Nelson Marlborough Fish and Game Council of his concern in a letter.
On his visit in late January, 2013, Bud caught his 424th (“catch and release”) trout from the Maruia river – the number of trout caught, showing he was well acquainted with the river. 
Bud’s assessment of the 2013 visit as “the worst fishing trip” he’d had in 40 years to the Maruia was based on in his words “fewest trout seen, in spite of the number of hours of hard work and in perfect conditions of clear sky, full sun, no wind, clear water and perfect water level”
There was, in his 2013 trip, unlimited potential for working “every inch” of water.
His only limit was “my physical endurance and fatigue.” There were no other fisherman – or kayaks – to disturb the trout.
“I only averaged seeing 3 fish every 6 hours in perfect spotting conditions.”
“Takes” worked out at one every 5.5 hours of diligent hard work in perfect conditions using the same techniques and nymphs and dries that produced over 400 fish over the other 40 odd years previously.
Diary Doesn’t Lie
Bud’s diary – over the years – does not lie and shows his best day ever was 16 landed and 5 lost, 2 days of 14, lots of 10 and 11, dozens of 7,8,9’s plus disaster days, usually due to poor weather, windy, or loss of sun. And there had been days of 2,3 and 4 trout all fishing the exact same water as in late January this year.
Bud’s diary also recorded this decline in fish numbers with extensive notes of falling numbers beginning Feb. 7, 2006 and the same comments of decline every year to 2013.
Bud went on to say in his letter, “in 2013, it was such wonderful weather and easy casting and because wading/crossing was easier it was very pleasant. But it became clear that I was fishing water that once held numerous fish 20,30 and 40 years ago, now held very few.”
“In all, my latest visit was characterised by glorious weather and beautiful water – but no fish. I bring this to your attention because in my home region in north Wairarapa, I have seen the same trend of declining trout numbers.”
And on the “state of self denial” Bud told the Nelson Marlborough Fish and Game Council that “It seems to me to be wrong – and dishonest –  for fish and game councils claiming the best fishing for years as some councils do. I understand selling licences has a need for income but that should not obscure the reality of the decline in trout numbers in many rivers. The Maruia seems yet another example of diminishing trout stocks.”
The reaction from Nelson-Marlborough Fish and Game was muted.
The Fish and Game reply sympathised he “had such a poor season this year” but added that  “reports prior to Christmas suggested the river was fishing well, but it had a big flood in early January which would not have helped.”
But undeniably Bud had noticed steady declines particularly since 2006 – seven years before he wrote to the fish and game council.
Crisis Undeniable
But Bud back then saw the situation as a crisis – needing attention and with questions that urgently need answering. 
What are the causes? 
Increased dairy farming further up the valley? The use of agricultural chemicals and leaching? Pesticides such as DEW 600 applied for grass grub and known to be lethal to aquatic life? Extensive aerial dropping of 1080 poison for an imagined possum pest? Had Fish and Game researched changes of bottom fauna and water chemistry changes with this intensive dairy farming? So many questions!
Bud said the answer to NZ rivers would not be found by denying the decline.
“It’s up to Fish and Game to find it out,” Bud said at the time.
And then he candidly added “Otherwise Fish and Game is negligent, the fishery declines and Fish and Game’s income, i.e.licence money, will dry up.”
My assessment is that the outlook of Nelson marlborough Fish and Game has  changed since Bud wrote his letter six years ago. With a change in managership Nelson Marlborough Fish and Game are concerned.
But what a pity the concern was not shown over ten years ago and that Wayne McCallum’s warning was not heeded twenty years ago.


© Bud Jones success rate steadily declined over the years.
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