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There have been some serious concerns about the reasons behind the closure of all river fisheries east of State Highway 1 in the North Canterbury region.

North Canterbury Fish & Game received approval from the Department of Conservation for the closure from May until September including the Rakaia, Waimakariri, Hurunui and Waiau Rivers.

The reason cited by North Canterbury Fish & Game (NCFG) chairman in a press release was that the fishery was under threat "thanks to environmental degradation and poor water management policies."

A number of groups and individuals have seriously questioned this reason.

It's not so much about the fishing, which by all accounts is very quiet during winter months anyway.

Rather, it is the allegation that water quality has been degraded in part due to agricultural activities.

Farmers all over New Zealand, have been diligently and voluntarily fencing off waterways on their farms for years.

They have been gaining the knowledge, understanding and practical tools needed to look after those waterways and I applaud their efforts in doing so.

Fish & Game's decision to close the fishery in North Canterbury due to poor water management policies appears to go against those efforts. What is becoming clear from some of the heated discussions stirred up by this issue is that we do not have clear, robust and properly analysed scientific facts to justify the region-wide fishing ban. It appears that what data is available is unreliable and able to be selectively interpreted.

In fact Rob Cullinane, NCFG general manager and candidate for October's Environment Canterbury elections, has pointed out that two reports produced for the Hurunui Waiau Zone Committee looking at phosphorus levels in the Hurunui River and effects on algal growths were inconclusive and without an independent peer review, respectively. Since their initial press release, NCFG have stated that not all Canterbury rivers are in a degraded state and that closure of the Hurunui and Waiau lowland reaches was firstly a precautionary measure to avoid redirected fishing effort. But Rural Advocacy Network spokesman Jamie McFadden alleges NCFG have "deliberately misled the Department of Conservation, media and the general public with exaggerations, misinformation and unsubstantiated claims". He writes that, "the actions of Fish & Game are widely condemned by farmers".

Hurunui Waiau Zone Committee chairman John Faulkner called Fish & Games statement that the Hurunui and Waiau Rivers have declining water quality that forced the closure "incorrect" and that it gives a "misleading impression".

NCFG has replied to this with the results of NIWA sampling of the Hurunui River at State Highway 1 which showed poor macroinvertebrate ratings.

The river has also seen cyanobacteria (Phormidium) outbreaks in the past five years, which are associated with higher nitrate elevations.

The Network has publicly called for a Government investigation into NCFG, alleging it is in breach of its statutory obligations and misappropriation of licence holder funds.

New Zealand Fish & Game is a NonGovernment Organisation, run by those elected by people who buy fishing and hunting licences. It has a responsibility to its fee-paying members to act fairly and appropriately.

I have been in contact with the Minister of Conservation, the honourable Maggie Barry, who has advised that the power to make decisions over whether to close any sports fishery in New Zealand sits with the Director-General of Conservation, Lou Sanson.

The Minister has referred the matter to the Director-General of Conservation for his consideration. In the meantime, NCFG must come forth with clear, robust scientific facts on the state of North Canterbury's rivers and fishery rather than making what may be unsubstantiated claims.

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