Rawiri Waititi has got it right again

Rawiri Waititi is right to support commercial trout farming, and he has economic and cultural history behind him.

In pre-European times freshwater fisheries were important Maori food sources.  A staple species was the upokororo (Prototroctes oxyrhynchus), which early settlers called grayling. They were abundant until around 1870, after which they rapidly declined, becoming extinct by the late 1940s.  Their decline was likely caused by a range of factors, including introduced trout impacting on their habitat.

European settlers escaped a British class system where recreational fishing and hunting were upper class privileges.  Settlers wanted these recreations available to “the common man”.  They used government law and regulation to support their aims.

A series of Animal Protection Acts from 1867 protected game animals and formally recognised acclimatisation societies established to introduce new species as long as they were “innoxious”.  The Salmon and Trout Act was passed in 1867 to “make provision for the preservation and propagation of salmon and trout in this colony”. 

In effect, the colonial administration legislatively mandated trout fisheries that inadvertently degraded Maori freshwater fisheries resources.  Over time the mandate for acclimatisation societies was carried over into the legislative powers granted to the Fish and Game Council under the Conservation Act.

There have been long-standing debates over fish farming, and in 1973 salmon but not trout farming was authorised.  While trout hatcheries to support the recreational trout industry have been in operation for over 130 years, New Zealand is now the only country in the world that specifically bans commercial trout farming. 

There is no scientific or commercial reason to continue banning trout farming.  There is much common interest between the recreational lobby and advocates for trout farming. The Fish and Game Council has been a tireless advocate for water quality and for protecting recreational fisheries for all New Zealanders. Maori have long been a strong voice for water quality and for the sustainability of our productive systems. 

Trout farming is widely practiced in many countries, including the US, Chile, Norway and Denmark.  Denmark has far less river systems and marine area than New Zealand and yet it has an industry worth around NZ$200M a year and employing about 800 people directly. It has been farming trout for over a hundred years.  Sea cage-based farms were developed in the 1950s, with land-based farms developed from the 1970s.

Due to environmental constraints, Denmark has recently capped the numbers of its sea cage-based trout farms and encouraged further development being limited to on-land farms.  These may well use closed land-based recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS).  The RAS system effectively removes pollution and disease risks.

Trout farming produces a higher quality and more consistent product than the recreational catch, and so farming and recreational fisheries are complementary.  In Tasmania world class recreational fisheries co-exist with trout farming.  Farming is largely in sea cages. 

The stance Waititi takes is refreshing because it sees the Maori voice advocating economic initiatives that create new wealth for New Zealanders rather than litigating over existing assets in a zero sum game.  Trout farming could be a demonstrative expression of kaitiatanga which contributes to sustainability of New Zealand’s productive systems. 

Advocating trout farming as something that can benefit New Zealand’s wider economy is a small but meaningful demonstration that, as stated in its constitution, “the Maori Party is for all citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand”.  So all power to Rawiri Waititi on this issue, and all the best for a Maori Party as it focuses on the hard economic issues Maori and other New Zealanders face rather than being distracted by in-group versus out-group identity politics.

About Peter Winsley

I’ve worked in policy and economics-related fields in New Zealand for many years. With qualifications and publications in economics, management and literature, I take a multidisciplinary perspective to how people’s lives can be enhanced. I love nature, literature, music, tramping, boating and my family.
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