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Trout in troubled waters

Ruamahanga River. PHOTO/FILE

Masterton deputy mayor Graham McClymont says he is fed up with Greater Wellington Regional Council and Fish and Game after his submission to the Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee regarding trout issues appears to have disappeared.

In his 2018 submission, McClymont said there seemed to be a conflict between protecting and restoring the trout fishery and protecting habitats for indigenous fish populations.


McClymont felt his submission was not “too far out to dismiss”, and unless it had been too outlandish or defamatory, it should have been read by the committee.

He said local government was supposed to be open.

He said the implementation plan mentioned exotic fish with statements such as “removal of pest fish” and “maintaining exotic fish at a level not restricting the vitality of indigenous fish populations”.

According to Fish and Game, Brown trout were introduced to New Zealand just more than 150 years ago from British stock that had been established in Tasmania only three years earlier.

McClymont said torrentfish appeared to be used as an indicator species with a desire to maintain 90 per cent of habitat space, the riffles and rapids that trout also favoured.

He said the torrentfish was on the 2014 International Union for Conservation of Nature red list.

The fish were marked as vulnerable and needed protection.

All the while, both brown and rainbow trout were protected by the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations 1983 as a schedule one sports fish, McClymont said.

He said there was evidence of trout predation on indigenous fish in the Ruamahanga catchment.

“It is harming the species.

“If we are serious about restoring the values of the Ruamahanga catchment, I would ask that GWRC investigate repealing the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations 1983 – and actively remove all exotic fish, especially trout, from the entire catchment.”

He said if community members such as farming operations and businesses that relied on water for their livelihood were asked to make changes, then sports fishers also needed to play their part.

“Unless exotic fish are removed, it will be hard to assess the impact that other changes are having on indigenous fish populations.”

He said it could be that trout populations had a corresponding increase and devoured more torrentfish.

Regional council general manager of environment management Al Cross confirmed the regional council had received McClymont’s submission, notified him at the time, and gave it “detailed and respectful consideration”.

Cross said the regional council was interested in the views of stakeholders, and the Whaitua process was designed to encourage them to engage.

“We received the submission in 2018 in the context of the Ruamahanga Whaitua Committee completing its report, at which point it asked for and received comments on a draft,” he said.

Cross said the process wasn’t intended to be formal but was regarded as a “valuable way of gathering information towards the end of the Whaitua committee’s tenure”.

He said comments had been received verbally and in writing at Whaitua committee meetings, with no hearings scheduled.

“The approach of the Whaitua committee was to consider feedback by topic rather than by submitter; hence we didn’t respond directly to submissions.”

On the topic of trout, Cross said the issue was considered by the Whaitua committee several times, including during the preparation of the report.

He said there had been considerable support for the same view expressed by McClymont, although it was not universal.

This led the committee, among other things, to use torrentfish as the indicator to set minimum flows, Cross said.

The result was tension in the Whaitua report and the Resource Management Act, he said.

“The committee and GWRC were bound by the legislation that it worked within; this included the status of trout in the Resource Management Act.”

Cross said that other legislation, although not considered by the Whaitua committee, supported the current status of trout.

Included were parts of the Conservation Act regarding Fish and Game Councils and Freshwater Fisheries Regulations.

Although neither the Whaitua committee nor the regional council could change these, Cross said the status of trout in the RMA was an issue at a national level.

“The Government is reviewing the structure and role of Fish and Game Councils at present. Change in these areas is likely, although the outcome is not clear at present.”

Cross said McClymont’s submission was insightful and valuable.

The committee made changes as a result and then finalised its report. The regional council then accepted the report, he said.

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