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New Zealand losing fight for healthy freshwater

Monday 17 April 2023, 1:13PM

By Fish and Game NZ

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Fish & Game New Zealand Chief Executive Corina Jordan
Fish & Game New Zealand Chief Executive Corina Jordan Credit: Fish and Game NZ

New Zealand is losing its way in the fight to protect the health of lakes and rivers, says Fish & Game New Zealand.

"The latest report on the state of freshwater in New Zealand by Stats NZ and the Ministry for the Environment paints a damning picture," says Corina Jordan, chief executive of Fish & Game New Zealand, a qualified freshwater ecologist.

"Fish & Game staff and volunteers are at the frontline of protecting the health of our waterways so we’re devastated at the continuing decline of our freshwater and the impact that is having on many of our freshwater fish, waterfowl, and their habitats, along with the ability for people to enjoy these environments.

"Clearly, the report shows we are not only failing in our duty to provide for a healthy environment, but we are also failing to protect source drinking water for our communities.

"All New Zealand is effectively doing is monitoring the decline in freshwater when in fact we need to be taking tangible and meaningful steps and actions to make a difference.

"Clearly, the current blanket regulatory approach is not working and instead we need a far more mature approach which is tailored to the specific issues a catchment may be facing and the activities causing those challenges.

"We also need to see our leaders singing from the same song sheet in relation to what we need to do as communities and individuals in protecting, and where impacted, restoring our natural spaces.

"Catchment community efforts and farming leaders building diverse and resilient farming landscapes are part of the solution and we need to see this supported and upscaled across New Zealand.

"New Zealand also needs to invest in preserving and creating wetlands, which provide a buffering function for the environment and provide essential habitat for indigenous species, but also our valued introduced species.

"We have lost a lot of wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams, which has impacted our ability to manage sediment loss and nutrient loss into our rivers, and buffer against flood events. Wetlands can also play a role in addressing climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and filter greenhouse gases."

There needs to be a greater recognition of the full value of freshwater including recreation, mental health and wellbeing, and food gathering, says Jordan.

"Trout are valued freshwater species and have been naturalised in New Zealand for 150 years, co-existing with indigenous species and providing an important food source for local tuna (eels) populations. Trout also have high freshwater quality and higher flow requirements so are good indicators of when the system isn’t working well."

"Ultimately, everyone must take responsibility for the decline in freshwater. We need honest leadership from central and local government and a consistent message to communities."