A ‘goodwill meeting’ held between the boards of Federated Farmers and Fish & Game has signaled an attempt to calm the troubled waters between the two organisations.
However, the initiative has raised some eyebrows among freshwater campaigners.
Six members of the NZ Fish & Game Council met with their counterparts from Federated Farmers at the end of November at a meeting described by Fish & Game chair Ray Grubb as “a cordial get-together in which both parties discussed areas of common interest”.
Mr Grubb says when fishing through farmers’ properties, he is made welcome and often offered a cup of tea or a beer.
“We can and should have the same relationship nationally. This meeting was pleasant, beneficial and long overdue: we discussed issues such as access, catchment groups, wetlands and connecting local Feds and Fish & Game people to look at what we can work on together. Basically, we are looking at combining our strengths to improve freshwater.
“It’s a good starting point. Both parties agree there are lots of areas of commonality.”
Mr Grubb says while there may well be issues which Fish & Game and Feds don’t agree on, there are many they are already working on together in small ways. And there is good work being done on farms around the country by such as catchment groups which need to be acknowledged and applauded.
“Making broad-brush statements about the primary sector is not appropriate given the work that many farmers are doing to reduce the impact of their activity on waterways and the generosity shown to anglers and hunters by allowing them onto their land.”
Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard acknowledged the two organisations have a history of struggling to appreciate each other’s point of view.
“Many of our members are also members of Fish & Game. And fishermen and farmers are very similar people. We both love the outdoors and likely have more in common than we do in difference.
“It is pleasing that we have been able to come together and discuss those areas of shared interest and concern and think about ways in which we can work on those areas of difference.”
One area of co-operation highlighted very early on in discussions is working together around the issue of access to farmland for hunting and fishing purposes.
“One of the first things we will look at is providing more assistance to Fish & Game for ensuring the right information is given to fisherman and hunters so that farm property rights, biosecurity and health and safety requirements are understood.”
Feds working more closely with Fish & Game will require some farmers and growers to put aside the dislike and distrust they’ve felt towards the organisation and its members.
“We are not breaking out the marshmallows, lighting the camp fire, and signing “kumbaya” together, but we both recognise that an adversarial approach really only benefits lawyers.
“We are not going to agree on everything, but we can at least disagree in a respectful manner that doesn’t vilify either farmers or fisher’s in the eyes of one another,” Mr Hoggard said.
Meanwhile some freshwater campaigners are struggling to find value in agreeing to disagree.
Choose Clean Water spokesperson Marnie Prickett said her organisation believes the reason Federated Farmers is “taking an interest” in Fish & Game is to weaken Fish & Game’s work to protect freshwater.
“Fish & Game has done a huge amount of heavy lifting to protect the environment. They have had the resources that most environmental groups don’t have, and the will to take legal action to protect rivers and lakes for all New Zealanders.”
“Most often these legal fights have been against agricultural industry bodies, like Federated Farmers, who have sought to weaken protection for rivers and lakes. If Fish & Game moves closer to Federated Farmers, it will undermine its mandate to protect freshwater habitat.”
Fish & Game licence holders should be particularly concerned, says the group.
When Fish & Game surveyed their licence holders earlier in the year, they found overwhelmingly that the majority supported their national body taking a strong role in environmental advocacy.
“A close relationship between Fish & Game and Federated Farmers will do exactly the opposite of what licence holders want.
“The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to our indigenous fish species and, despite the fact that Fish & Game’s role is to protect trout and salmon, their advocacy and legal battles for habitat have benefits for native wildlife too,” Ms Prickett said.