What River Crisis?

by Tony Orman

Recently I found an article  in a now defunct magazine, “Southern Fishing And Boating.” 
Twenty years ago in the November 2000 issue of the magazine  Wayne McCallum, North Canterbury Fish and Game’s Environment officer, warned of a crisis facing New Zealand’s lowland waterways.
Describing it as “a wholesale crisis,” Wayne  identified the problem as “a decline of trout densities across a mounting list of New Zealand’s lowland waterways.”
He cited the “on-going tragedy of the Selwyn River brown trout fishery” where, in the 1940s, trapping of the Selwyn’s spawning run, conservatively estimated numbers of well above 40,000 fish but by 1985 (the last time the run was counted) , the recorded figure was a staggering low 309 fish.
He identified the demise of the extensive rappia weed beds in Lake Ellesmere , water pollution, sewage, abstraction of water and drainage works as likely adverse factors.
Then he looked at the Horokiwi Stream near Wellington. In the 1950s, the Horokiwi was the focus of a comprehensive and notable trout stream study by K Radway Allen. Radway Allen measured trout densities in excess of 70 fish per cubic 10 metres along the main reaches of the stream. But a NIWA study  done about 2000 was a shock – trout had become virtually non-existent in the waterway. 
In other words the trout population had gone from a healthy state to being virtually extinct in little over 50 years. Wayne McCallum said in 2000 pointing the finger at local body and central government, that “perhaps the biggest factor causing frustration is the failure to acknowledge the existence of a crisis at all.“
Where have we got to in 20 years since North Canterbury’s Fish and Game officer Wayne McCallum gave his strong warning?

, What River Crisis?

The Selwyn River with Protest billboards

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6 Responses to What River Crisis?

  1. Grant Henderson says:

    ” … trout had become virtually non-existent in the waterway.”

    Jeez, you could barely call it a waterway; a polluted ditch is a more accurate description. I think the Selwyn was one of the great rivers George Ferris refers to in one of his fishing books. Very sad state of affairs now.

    It suits politicians and rural sector players to pretend there isn’t a problem (or if there is a problem, it will be fixed once they have fixed the economy). A few months ago I heard a self-styled “rural financial consultant” on Radio NZ say New Zealand was clean and green and had plenty of water.

    There must be a factory somewhere churning out these clowns in hundreds.

  2. Charles Henry says:

    Even in areas with significant rainfall such as Wellington, only this week advertisements have been going out reporting Toxic Algae.
    Wellington Regional Council continues to draw more and more water from the Hutt catchment each year, to the extent these are now regular annual events.
    WRC have known of the coming problem for well over 20 years, yet have failed abysmally to take any significant action.
    With a burgeoning population, the problem will only get worse.
    This not to mention their obsession with 1080 and ecocide.

  3. Chaz Willoughby says:

    Where are the public service agencies on this issue? Dept. of Conservation, ECan, and Fish and Game NZ?
    While they are AWOL and others set up committees (paralysis) and pay lip service, the degradation worsens. Where is government since in 2017 both Greens and Labour promised to repair damage?

    • Grant Henderson says:

      This is from the recently released government papers “Briefing to Incoming Ministers”, with respect to climate change and the environment portfolios:

      “b. Freshwater and sustainable land management – agree an approach to water allocation, including addressing Māori rights and interests as a priority. There are also areas for further development for the farm planning system, and possible amendments to existing regulations (eg, stock exclusion maps) to aid their implementation. ”

      At least they put it in the list of things needing early responses.

      Government’s “Three Waters” Programme is explained on the Dept of Internal Affairs website.

  4. Jon Black says:

    Good point Chaz.
    When will it dawn on Department of Conservation that healthy waterways is good for native fish? Why are not DOC out there advocating for a waterways cleanup?
    Twenty years later after Wayne McCallum’s warning and nothing significant has been done, is shameful

  5. Andy Jones says:

    I cannot get over the sincerity of politicians. There in the picture with the article, in 2017 is Labour and PM Adern personally saying on a billboard (and exploiting for personal political gain) the Selwyn’s disgusting condition. Let’s face t. The state of rivers has been caused by governments’lack of controls on nitrate leaching and irrigation takes. In National’s case under Key and Nick Smith,government did a state takeover of a democratically elected council (ECan) so they could speed up consent processes for National’s corporate dairying mates.
    I am not sure if Labour’s much better going by it’s inaction. 2017 was three years ago.

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