Home' Fish and Game : September 2016 Contents Fish&GameNewZealand
The conflict this dual role brings becomes
baldly obvious when you look at regional
councils such as Environment Canterbury,
Hawke’s Bay and Greater Wellington.
These three examples are their regions’
leading proponents of large-scale irrigation
development to allow more intensive land
use, along with the environmental impacts
such policies bring.
Despite the requirement to protect the
environment, regional councils do not have
a good track record in this area.
For example, regional councils have
opposed every Water Conservation Order
ever applied for by Fish & Game councils and
nearly all our legal action over RMA regional
plans has been in opposition to regional
Remember, these are the same entities
charged with ‘protecting significant habitats
of indigenous fauna (i.e. native fish) and of
trout and salmon’.
The Government’s justification for all
this centres on the much over-used line
that it is pursuing ‘economic growth within
environmental limits’. However, these limits
are set at the very minimum – or in some
cases below the minimum – necessary to
maximise what is termed ‘headroom’ which
will allow further natural resource exploitation.
Why do you think the Government has
talked about rivers only being “wadeable”
and not “swimmable”? The political reality
is that requiring that a river only needs to
REGIONAL COUNCILS ARE FAILING WOEFULLY TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT FROM THE IMPACTS OF IRRIGATION
be “wadeable” buys the Government the
development ‘headroom’ it wants, even if it
also imposes a terminal life sentence on the
For me, this deceit became starkly
apparent when Fish & Game was still on the
Government’s Land and Water Forum. We
received a paper from officials promoting
economic growth – all duly qualified by the
‘environmental limits’ caveat – only for the
same document to admit it would be years
before adequate scientific information would
be available to set those environmental
limits. Yet there was no suggestion of pausing
economic growth until that necessary science
This was an eye opener. Surely, if a
proposal is conditional on information which
can’t be supplied, then shouldn’t some sort
of safeguard be triggered halting the proposal
until the required information is available?
Apparently not, which made a farce of the
‘economic growth within environmental
limits’ condition and was one of the reasons
Fish & Game left the Land and Water Forum.
Having engaged in all this litigation for so
many years, we need to ask just how well
regional councils have heeded our hard-won
legal victories. Unfortunately, the answer is
not very well, with some councils seeking to
thwart and undermine key outcomes of these
cases. There are a number of political reasons
The first is the fundamental political
reality that the Government of the day can
pretty much do what it likes when it comes
to making and changing laws. So even
where Fish & Game has achieved significant
victories, those gains can be thwarted by a
Politics is also at play at the regional level.
Regional plans – the legal documents
setting the rules and guiding the practical
implementation of the RMA – have to be
reviewed every 10 years. This review allows
them to be substantially changed, wiping out
a decade of gains made by Fish & Game in
The majority of Fish & Game’s RMA
spending in recent years has been in relation
to these regional plans, creating a legal
treadmill which soaks up massive amounts
of time and resources for questionable gains.
Against this background, it becomes pretty
clear the great legal victories which Fish &
Game has enjoyed are in reality not at all
secure, especially under an environmentally
hostile government. We are seeing this right
now, with the Government introducing a
new Bill to Parliament which will significantly
change the RMA, especially the rules
around habitat protection. It doesn’t stop
there. Further changes have been flagged
as a consequence of a more recent public
This all begs the question of why Fish &
Game should stay engaged in a process
where the rules are being changed in
an effort to strengthen the hand of the
environment’s opponents at the same time
as weakening our hopes of securing durable
results protecting your interests.
It would actually be irresponsible to remain
and continue down this path.
Instead, Fish & Game should take
advantage of the one common denominator
underpinning all of these situations – they are
driven by publicly elected people for whom
public opinion plays a significant part in their
appointment and performance.
Adopting a strategy of making the public
aware of what is happening and involving
them in environmental advocacy has the
advantage of moving Fish & Game’s battle
onto a more level playing field, where
the opposition is less able to control and
manipulate the rules of engagement.
It makes simple, strategic sense.
Fish & Game, with its nationwide regional
structure, is well placed to capitalise on this
opportunity. It has already demonstrated
that it is the public’s champion, fighting to
protect New Zealanders’ birth right to have
recreational access to the outdoors and enjoy
water that is swimmable, drinkable and safe to
gather food from.
Our organisation also has a very good ‘Kiwi
values’ based story to champion based on
fishing, hunting and the great outdoors. It is a
story experience indicates resonates well with
the wider public and which is a natural fit with
our strategic allies, such as other environment
and outdoor recreation organisations, and
While Fish & Game is reasonably well
recognised in the public arena, it could do a
lot more by reprioritising some spending to
get the biggest, longer-term bang for its buck
from harnessing public opinion.
This is not to say Fish & Game should
abandon using the courts as a way of
protecting the environment but any legal
action needs to be realistic. Our organisation
must take stock of the lessons already
learned, carefully scan the future operating
environment and be prepared to adopt
alternative approaches which release funds
for other, complementary strategies.
Fish & Game licence holders also have a
part to play in this.
This year, local government elections are
being held. Make sure you have your say and
do your part to protect the environment by
voting for regional and district councils and
holding present officer holders to account. Or
even better, stand for election as a councillor.
As a personal challenge, how about taking
fishing one person who has never enjoyed
fresh water angling before? Show them what
you love about the New Zealand treasure
revered around the globe as one of the
world’s greatest trout fisheries.
All the best for the coming season.
Bryce Johnson, Chief Executive
New Zealand Fish and Game Council
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