President’s Report 2018

In my 2016 and 2017 reports I made note of coming changes in whitebait management. That time has now arrived. Earlier this year the Minister of Conservation commissioned a study into fresh water ecology. As part of this she asked the Department of Conservation to prepare a report into whitebait and whitebait management practices. This has generated all sorts of speculation, and reports from NZ Conservation Authority and Forest & Bird, seeking radical changes to the Whitebait Regulations. This has generated alarm among whitebaiters.

There is no doubt that we are facing change.  The Ministers Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish), Amendment Bill, has just been introduced to the House.  This Bill proposes to amend the Conservation Act to allow the Minister (among other things) to change regulations.  As yet I have not seen a copy of the actual Bill, but the Minister published the following remarks: “The Bill amends the Conservation Act so that the Minister of Conservation can improve old regulations to address threats such as damage to fish spawning sites and fish being killed by activity such as drainage works and pump stations. “On the surface there is nothing of concern in that, but the question is, just what do the amendments actually say? This Bill proposes to amend a number of clauses in the Conservation Act, relating to freshwater species management, give the Director General authority to impose various restrictions, and amend the authority to make, or change regulations. The actual wording is unclear. I have asked MP Damien O’Connor to provide a copy of the Bill, and he has undertaken to do so.

The Minister has formed a National Working Group to study whitebait management, and form recommendations. I have been invited to join this group, along with other members of our West Coast Wild Whitebait Fishery group. I will seek the approval of this meeting to do so as your representative, (not as President), and also to carry on with the SWWF project in the interim. Hopefully we can influence outcomes. The Minister is fully aware of what we are doing here with our SWWF project. That has to be a bonus. Any change to Regulations will take time. The Working Group recommendations will not go to the Minister before the end of the year, and from that the Minister will put out proposals for public submissions before any change. It is a lengthy process.

On the flip side: I have already mentioned reports from the Conservation Authority and Forest& Bird advocating dramatic restrictions. These are highly professional organisations with a depth of experience in presenting submissions. We will need to be on our game in presenting opposing views. To that end I have made arrangements with NZTV 1 Sunday Program to come to the West Coast and get our story. This should happen in September.  Any submissions we make will have to be well researched, and professionally presented. This will cost money.

We should consider setting up a fighting fund for the purpose. It would be wise to seek support from the wider community. I invite discussion on these matters during General Business.

Moving onto local affairs:

In my last report I mentioned the difficulty encountered in dealing with Transit NZ in regard to issues associated with the Taramakau Bridge construction. An ongoing issue is access to the Gentle Annie Track on the South bank of the river, used by some 10 stand holders to access their sites. As I write this report the issue remains unresolved.  Transits proposal was to allow limited vehicle access to this track via the cycleway, and have it managed by Westland DC.  This proposal presents a health and safety problem that neither Council, nor this association are happy with. We have had a number of discussions with the Mayor and Council staff. Council had proposed to open discussions with Transit on another option. Transit was reluctant to engage.  On Tuesday the 14th August the Mayor informed me that Transit had prepared a proposal, and were forwarding to me for consultation. On Tuesday I received a management plan from Transit. It offered nothing new, but set out their view on how access should be managed. In short this proposal is unpractical, and unsafe. But as the plan vests management of the arrangement with Council, I propose that we work with them to get some common sense into the mix.  Time is short.

Transit rejected a simple solution proposed by us, on a health and safety grounds, which proved non-existent. In Last year’s report I mentioned meeting with MP Damien O’Connor regarding this matter. He was unable to gain any traction with Transit. On Friday 17th of August Gerard Bullimore and myself again met with the MP. We discussed this issues, and matters relating to the Conservation Act Amendments. On all fronts this was an unsatisfactory meeting. Our MP was reluctant to engage. His views of the future of whitebaiting were confusing, and left the impression that he had little understanding of the issues, or the economic impact restrictions would have on rural communities. Nothing of substance was achieved.

In February I visited Northern Buller on an exercise to access the economic importance of whitebaiting to that district. The results were eye opening.  The exercise was to provide evidence for a funding application by the Sustainable Wild Whitebait Fishery team, for an in-depth regional study, to clearly establish the economic, social and cultural value of whitebaiting in Westland. This is part of the wider program being developed by SWWF which I will detail shortly. This research will provide information for local, and central government as well as SWWF.

It is important Government understands the impact fishing restrictions will have on our communities. There has never been a study on the subject before. It’s another NZ first. Whitebaiters support is critical.

The SWWF project is part of the West Coast Economic Development Plan. DOC is the lead agency. Other agencies include, Ngai Tahu and both local Runanga, Ministry of Primary Industries, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, West Coast Conservation Authority, West Coast Regional Council, University of Canterbury Research Team, DOC Research Team, Cascade Whitebait Company, and Whitebaiters Association.

The project is to develop a sustainable whitebait fishery by improving water quality, fish passage, and breeding sites. Work done to date includes a survey of 600 West Coast streams and 80 breeding sites, development of a works program and costings, preparing a funding application for the works program, and the economic, social, and cultural survey. This is a long term project that includes an ongoing maintenance program.  We are working with other authorities such as Transit NZ, Local Bodies, Federated farmers, Westland Milk Products, land owners, and community groups. We are developing a model for the rest of the country to follow. We know it works. We have the examples. This is a far better option than restrictive regulations with doubtful outcomes.

As this is my last day as your President, I would like to thank you all for your support. It has been quite amazing, often daunting, always challenging, but fulfilling.   I make special mention of the following people. Anglea, my dedicated hard working secretary, Barry, my Vice President who always keeps me up to speed with what’s happening around the patch, Graeme McKenzie who’s our Northern contact, Barry Wilson, and Gerard Bullimore who have devoted lot of time and effort in helping with various issues, and last of all, but definitely not least, my partner Jan, who has put up with all the baggage and the lost time, “not always silently”, but always there.

It has been a privilege.  This concludes my report.

Des McEnaney
West Coast Whitebaiters Association