Lower East Side, South Island

Recently, rather quietly on the international fly fishing front, there was a request for feedback regarding a proposed winter closure of low elevation brown trout water through Canterbury region of the S Island of New Zealand because the trout populations are suffering, crashing. For far too many years, Amelia & I have been silent on what we have been seeing as we’d rather focus on the positive, the wonderful fly fishing the S Island has to offer.


The truth is that every year the past 5 years, we’ve lost 4 or 5 small tributary streams to the agriculture industry. It is simply wreaking havoc on both the west and east sides of the island. When I wrote a short email reply as a licensed angler in New Zealand when feedback was requested, they asked for a 150 word email reply to include in their email newsletter. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep 10 years of pent up frustration to a mere 150 words. Like it or not, there are severe issues throughout New Zealand. Here’s what we shared, what I sent in to Fish & Game a couple of weeks back. I doubt it’ll end up being used or included as it is rather direct.

“I must apologize for the timing. I saw the latest email come out with anglers highly in favour of a winter closure on these waters. I fully appreciate the sentiment but find it misplaced. I must apologize as no email on the issue can be 150 words. The following comes not as a foreigner who is taking pot-shots at your country. No. If you are familiar with my home province of Alberta, Canada and the oil & gas industry we have here, no doubt you’ve heard of Alberta oilsands, then you know our landbase has immense pressures placed upon it. And as my wife & I have walked over 1000km per year of the tiniest of tributaries throughout the entire Canterbury Region the past decade, we see so many grave issues that the future of trout through the region is in serious peril.
But, to the point of winter closures, the first question that has to be asked: what is the Fisheries Management Objective? Is the objective to slow the rate of angling harvest because it is proven that anglers are the sole cause, or even the #1 cause of deterioration? Doubtful. Or is it desperation in just keeping the few remaining fish in the water – that limited, crippled trout stream habitat that is left through Canterbury? Or is the objective to stop the eroding habitat caused by decades of neglect and abuse by the Ag industry, to stabilize habitat, and to then increase its quality so that fish stocks can rebound? But, we’re talking angling regulations which are controlled by vastly different agendas, gov departments, and ideals than that of the agriculture industry. You see, anglers want to know that managers aren’t simply casting aim at anglers when the extreme habitat issues are far and away the main culprit. Centuries of agriculture with the more recent demands of intensive livestock use for new and varied uses and markets simply aren’t sustainable.
Before I continue, as owner of the Alberta Fishing Guide Magazine here in Alberta, Canada, as well as spending a great deal of energy the last 25 years on Fisheries Management issues in my home province of Canada, I’d like to share what my home province has studied, compiled, and shared. The Alberta FSI (Fish Sustainability Index) Maps. There was a great deal of time involved in developing these maps and managers had to dig deeply into archives to determine the historic populations of various native species in Alberta. Let me be succinct in pointing out the differences between historic and present day populations and why the majority of ranges of both bull trout and arctic grayling have been extirpated vastly from their native ranges: habitat erosion. In our case it has been done through extensive road construction and sedimentation of our waters in the oil & gas and logging industries, with the issue compounded by logging and oil & gas explorations and development opening up the forest canopies in and about our waters, thereby warming them and changing their morophology. Anglers had an initial role to play in harvest, however, catch & release and closures simply aren’t seeing any rebounding of stocks due to extreme habitat changes. Done differently, the entire E side of the S Island is essentially undergoing the same. Your fisheries, with habitat changes and alterations occurring as quickly as they are, are rapidly deteriorating to the same as the maps for Alberta’s Bull Trout & Arctic Grayling. When in stream habitat precludes trout, what has New Zealand to replace them? Where will anglers go and what becomes of the pressure on those remaining waters? That’s your future if you allow fish habitat to continue to be eroded. Anglers are not remotely the main cause of trout stock depletion – if there was suitable habitat the stocks would rebound with even the simplest of catch & release regulation. Where anglers are responsible is in our collective apathy in allowing extreme habitat change to occur and perpetuate. Yes, even as a foreigner, I love these waters as my own, and find it difficult to not voice concern. (continued below maps…)
Arctic Grayling
The notion to close waters to angling places the responsibility of the trout population change on the anglers. Having walked over 1000km per year of tiny tributaries and main rivers through the region on our annual 2 to 3 month trip to fly fish the S Island each year this past decade, I assure anglers are not the main reason the trout populations are crashing. Every year we’ve lost waters to the agriculture industry as they dredge and train the water course (ie, straighten the course and dump piles of shingle as bank stabilization which then is eroded and fills the course with sedimentation); rip out the stream flow and temperature regulating willow and bush canopies thereby opening the stream to direct sunlight and rapid thermal heating; creation of gravel traps with little monitoring or regulation of operations; and literally moving spring creeks hundreds of meters from their original location.
You see, a stream can only carry so much biomass held in trout per km. And that carrying capacity has to allow for spawning, rearing, juvenille habitat, as well as the adult life stages and processes. If you remove, alter, or eliminate any of these then your carrying capacity is diminished. In so many cases we’ve witnessed such alteration that there is simply no hope of a future with trout. Sure, you certainly may find migratory trout moving up to spawn, but over time a stream’s ability to pump its regeneration will have impact and those fish will not be able to return.
The #1 example I can give anyone is the Percival River near Hanmer Springs. The land owner was allowed to absolutely nuke the meandering, willow lined, cold water habitat by ECAN. We have video that shows hundreds upon thousands of juvenille brown trout residing in the countless shaded pools. Of course, in a good day’s walk you could engage 40 or 50 adult browns throughout the entire season. Today, the stream has been straightened, many willows removed compared to what was there, the large gravel trap a pump of sedimentation, and so little water of any depth now exists. Gone are the multitudes of juvenilles as they were, and long before Christmas it is difficult to find more than 15 adults from the confluence with the Waiau to the hwy bridge. The Percival is but one example of an alarmingly long list of streams in the region. Look down valley along the Waiau and every single tributary that is a pump to the Waiau’s trout population suffers similar impact. And that’s just the Waiau. The issue is the entire length of the island. You simply cannot continue to destroy key parts of the life stage habitat requirements of trout and not impact carrying capacity. And you can’t simply say “they’ll spawn elsewhere, mate”. The fish have told us where they need to spawn and rear before moving to the main rivers. If you kill the arterioles, the whole of the body dies. The main rivers only have trout because they have places to spawn and rear. Sedimentation, removal of niche and micro habitats, massive increasing of in-stream temperatures, and a poor dissolved oxygen content… these, far moreso than the endless green sludge of cattle effluent draining the fields, these are what is truly killing these waters.
Perhaps the greatest of ironies in agriculture is the need for water and irrigation, not so much that they need water but why. As we’ve seen countless times, farmers train their wee tributaries on their land to straight lines. They remove the willows that give definition to the stream course, that give anchoring to the shingly gravel, that provide critical thermal cover, then row mounds of shingle to the edge. This new, straight stream course sheds water as quickly as possible off their land. Of course, without any vegetation higher than a match stick as cover, the land now warms, bakes, and is starved for water as the draws and springs are dry. But now they beckon for water and suck it through the endless parade of pumps that have popped up across the landscape from every available source. The rate of increase of numbers of pumps sucking water out at an unprecedented rate, even in extreme droughts as experienced Oct – Dec, 2015 is shocking. They want dams and irrigation canals. But, what if they had left their lands with some riparian areas and worked within the boundaries of what the land itself is capable of producing? Much like water has a carrying capacity for trout, a land base naturally has a carrying capacity for growth. It’s patently obvious where the long term is headed in both cases of water and land on the S Island.
But to blame anglers for the loss of habitat that is driving trout out of these waters? No. The government is punishing the people who value these waters. There are many tools Fisheries managers can use. Closures are one. Why not Catch & Release – but only on the provision that anglers walk the entire lengths of these waters with camera in hand and identify the insults and changes to these waters. Then, and only then, will the government understand who is truly responsible. The S Island is in serious trouble.
Even those that only fish the spine of the island, those wonderful beech forest, back country waters, need to pay attention. You simply cannot ignore the connectedness of the high country trout and low country trout – don’t be fooled by your mouse influenced, trophy beech forest trout. These same fish are connected to the lowland stocks. With the movement between various waters and to the sea, all habitat has to be considered critical (but not absolute in all cases, of course). When many of the lowland rivers are devoid of fish sometime this decade, do you not think that the migrating fish numbers will not also dwindle? And when the lowland waters are trout free, do you not think the angling pressures on those back country waters will increase? The writing on the wall in front of you. Blaming anglers is not the way. There are a vast array of tools Fisheries managers can use but when the agriculture industry continues to pound away at habitat, it’s an endless losing battle and certainly disheartening for management. A change in mindset needs to occur in the Ag industry, but also in the fisheries community. Otherwise, precluding anglers from winter fishing is step 1. The next steps without an embracing of C&R will see full closures – closures that will be ineffective without stopping the habitat insults. But, without anglers out on the waters, who is going to notice and document those? And you likely won’t ever fish there again because stocks simply won’t return – as we here in Alberta can attest to with many of our grayling and bull trout streams. Don’t think for a second those maps aren’t your future.
Last year we shared the following video as an example of the ag industry. As an update to the following video’s call for help in the petition, the application for the dam was denied. That doesn’t preclude that project to be reapplied for at a later date or other projects on many similar waters to have applications made. 


5 thoughts on “Lower East Side, South Island

  • April 5, 2016 at 5:59 am

    The Minister for Conservation
    CC The Director of Fish and Game for New Zealand
    18th March 2016

    Dear Minister , The North Canterbury Fish and Game Council are proposing to draft a Sports Fishing Regulation Amendment to affect the next Winter Season ( 31st April to 30th September 2016 ) and possibly future Winter Fishing Seasons in the North Canterbury F & G District .
    The proposed change will probably be a complete closure of all Freshwater sports fishing east of highway one . During the Winter season .
    Currently there is considerable Sports Fishing opportunity during the winter season with in that zone, including the following rivers ; The Waiau , Hurunui , Ashley, Waimakariri , Kaiapoi, Cam , Avon , Heathcote , Styx , Okana , Okuti , Halswel, Selwyn and Rakaia. Also Lake Forsyth .
    The Winter season has been available in some of these rivers for more than 25 years .As well as trout , the attraction in several smaller rivers includes Red fin Perch.

    Winter fishing would still be legal in the reaches of the Waiau , Hurunui , Ashley and Rakaia between highway one and the mountain boundaries of the Western Zone where no winter river sports fishing is available .
    The concern of the Fish and Game Council is the continuing decline of Estuarine brown trout fisheries . (This part of the fishing opportunity is often first evident, and exploited in the spring ( winter season ) , as trout predate upon the white bait runs ) . This downward population trend is supported by huge amounts of anecdotal evidence and some science based long term research . This concern also is shared by many licence holders in the F & G district .
    There is a follow on effect of the sea run trout fishery as these fish, often upon maturity , migrate into the main stem rivers during summer and often as far as mountain tributaries .
    A public meeting was held to judge support for a proposed closure as described above . This closure was seen to represent one of the only actions that anglers could reasonably take to reduce the loss of , increasingly reducing , fishing opportunity during the main season. A sad recognition of the decline in quality of fresh water habitat, particularly for trout recruitment .
    The vast majority of those present , maybe 150 anglers , supported the closure . North Canterbury has probably 8000 full season licence holders .
    I abstained from showing support or opposition.
    I respectfully request that the Minister consider the following concerns before determining the passage of this rule change .
    There was a ban on natural bait for sports fishing during winter introduced about 2005 .
    Many of those present at this scoping meeting were concerned about the increasing number of anglers fishing during the winter season , but only at two river mouths , The Waimakariri and the Rakaia.
    The winter fishing opportunities at those two river mouths have greatly improved in recent years because of increasing availability of Kahawai.
    Many winter river mouth anglers are primarily targeting Kahawai .
    Many anglers , myself included, use identical tackle and fishing methods to target kahawai , trout and salmon at these river mouths .
    Trout are seldom caught on the type of baited gear, with sinkers , used by kahawai anglers , who may legally use bait in these areas.
    There was particular concern about the culture of, mostly Pilipino anglers, who constitute a relatively recent and obvious proportion of the increasing population of winter anglers , to kill every fish caught .
    Anecdotal evidence suggests ;
    the “Asian anglers “ often hold Sports fishing licences despite being legally entitles to fish bait and other methods for kahawai with out a licence .
    Asian Anglers are no less compliant with fishing regulations than anyone else ( they just keep more of their catch and happen to be very effective anglers in my considerable observations )
    There are other methods to restrict the harvest of sports fish with out reducing the opportunities of participation . The most obvious is an even smaller allowable catch per day or a restrictive size limit or range .
    Most of the considerable, highly publicised , tourist trout fishing industry in this country is supported by a no kill catch and release ethic . There is no apparent opposition to that practice .
    There will be increasing compliance issues because kahawai anglers often use identical methods including fly fishing ( lures rather than insect imitations ) as those for catching trout .
    The smaller rivers , Kaiapoi, Cam, Styx, Avon, Heatcote ,Halswell, Okana, Okuti that will be closed as collateral damage are not known for sea run trout fishing in the winter months , some also constitute a good part of the Perch fishing opportunity which can be very successful in early winter .
    Those small rivers above are mostly spring fed , remain clear and fishable except in extreme events, already have the sensitive areas closed to winter fishing and are in or close to the city providing an obvious advantage for young anglers and desperate addicts like myself in winter .
    The above small rivers have a totally different angling requirement and culture to the large braided river that are the source of all this concern .
    The large braided rivers are often unfishable for days on end due to the volatile nature of their flows from heavy west coast rains filling the mountain catchments .
    In 25 years I have never observed any increase in winter angler effort on those small streams during the times the braided rivers are unfishable .
    That there be an effective research and monitoring program in place to judge the effectiveness of this regulation change as part of it`s being approved , particularly as there has already been, in the previous 15 years; a year round reduction in the daily bag limit for trout from 4 to 2 over virtually the entire region , and a ban on winter bait fishing in the areas that will be affect by this rules change , and the fishery continues to decline.
    This past white bait season was exceptionally good in Canterbury coastal rivers
    The kahawai fishery appears to have become much more consistent and abundant is the past few years .
    Based on the above two observation , one could casually conclude that the reduction in the seatrout fishery is not due to a lack of food during the spring .
    I believe every licence holder in North Canterbury would support or at least accept a further reduction in the winter trout harvest , but only a proportion would do the same for a total ban .
    That Fish and game undertake to discourage events at any time that result in mass killing of trout over short periods of time .ie kill and weigh fishing contests .
    That every sea run trout is the result of successful spawning recruitment by mature riverine trout during the first half of winter .
    Any reduction in adult (mature ) trout population regardless of the season may impact upon the population in future years .
    I thankyou for your consideration of my concerns , I trust you will make a just decision based on wide consultation , current objectives , and the guidance of legislation .
    regards Greg Kemp

    8 Flesher Ave Richmond Christchurch 8014

  • April 5, 2016 at 6:07 am

    Another excerpt From correspondence with Fish and Game ; It was also the last Creek to really deteriorate, and slowly I concentrated on less water retreating upwards above suspect tributaries , until the area around Oatlands appeared to be the last hold out of the magic I had come to know along that part of the coastal plain.
    Slowly all these magic , almost unused fishing places deteriorated, not always in a linear fashion , but generally , the water wasnt as clear , more brown mucky stuff on the rocks and structure . much less or no more mayflies , and less fish sometimes none .. The scariest thing I observed the last time I fished Norms maybe 5 years ago was that there were only a few trout , but big fish 3 or 4 lb plus . No small fish anywhere . ( no mayflies , more muck, Mrs McKenzie told me their water tasted different ) Some people would be gladdened by those big fish , but I saw it as a harbinger of doom
    There are trout living in some of the now degraded creeks, , and I hope when I have time , I can check out some of those really obscure places and find one or two that might be holding out , clear clean healthy and hiding a few fat little fish that dont know much about the forgeries I will drift past them ..
    I fear how ever that things are only going one way , and that little bit of “ drain fishers “ paradise has gone the way of so many low country creeks in New Zealand . Almost unnoticed a whole level of habitat has been sacrificed in a Mythical Clean Green Country

    regards Greg

  • April 6, 2016 at 2:30 am

    You’re “bang on” about the decline of New Zealand rivers. I’ve fished for over 60 years in NZ and am, appalled and saddened by the destruction plus the apathy. In the apathy section, has to go Fish and Game who just lack the strength of advocacy. They seem impotent and well yes a[athetic.
    cheers – or cheerless is it?
    Tony Orman (NZ)

  • April 9, 2016 at 6:44 am

    I have been fishing the Canterbury area for 60 years and fully agree with what I have just read. This article has been well written and well researched and is very factual. Our smaller lakes are also under threat.

  • April 13, 2016 at 5:57 am

    the main problem in canterbury is the lack of water as irrigators are taking more. IE- the waimak 20 years ago ran clear at around 113 cum, now it is 70-80 but if you go up to browns rock where the intakes are you will find plenty of water above there. have email them about it. they admit mistakes in written replys but are doing nothing to fix it . the midreachs by their own scientists say feed the springs of the avon headwaters on the south side and silverstream on the north. this summer their have on average been 30cum below browns rock by their own data. when you have low flows it dries up and restricts lowland spawning areas. closing the rivers is to send a message to the government about water flow as as it is about low numbers of trout. trout go where the food is currently that is out at sea asd the krill the kahawai show currently when caught. silveries have in the last week or so been present in the waimak in numbers not seen this year until now.


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