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New Zealand's primary production sector fights back

Friday 13 September 2019

Last month, the New Zealand Herald published a Rangitikei farmer’s open letter to Jacinda Ardern.

In it, Andrew Stewart gently and politely states his despair over government environmental policies. He asks why he should consider carrying on in the face of ‘such massive uncertainty about the future’ with little control over his own destiny.

Sound familiar yet?

In Stewart’s and farming’s case, he is talking about climate change legislation, but his words could easily be used to describe the onerous and increasing regulatory requirements on the fishing industry, driven largely by environmental concerns.

And, in both farming and fishing the science behind the legislation is shaky.

Stewart says of farming; “We are signing up for generational obligations and tax based on guess work and not hard science.”

Well, quite.

He goes on to lament the almost total lack of recognition that farmers are receiving for the incredible amounts of riparian planting and other environmental initiatives they have undertaken over many years.

Farming and fishing feel, justifiably, under attack but are no longer prepared to remain silent.

The Maui and Hector’s dolphin Threat Management Plan is just one of the threats to livelihoods being faced by the industry right now but, potentially it is the greatest. Our people are under enormous stress as they face diminishing returns on debt-ridden assets.

Like the family farm, fishing vessels must produce to realise their investment and increasingly they are being prohibited from doing so because of illusionary environmental factors.

Stewart says; “I see daily the 118 years of care, devotion and respect that has been poured into this little slice of Aotearoa by four generations of my family. To suggest to me, as a sheep and beef farmer, that this farm and therefore my family are polluters makes me sick to my stomach.”

We visited fishermen affected by the Threat Management Plan in Taranaki and Raglan last week. The pain is raw, and the stories are very similar. Small, family-owned, generational businesses who face elimination on the pretence of environmental concerns. Farmers have climate change and we have the Maui dolphin. Well, according to one fisherman, as far as threats to the industry are concerned, that is the closest crocodile to the canoe, but there are many others casting a baleful eye.

And like farmers, our fishermen have been looking after their environment for generations. They are conservationists and they are just as offended as Stewart at the depiction of them as environmental vandals.

Stewart’s letter to the Prime Minister is just one salvo. The full-page ads that Seafood New Zealand is running in major newspapers is another. When science is no longer the basis for sound decision making, when people feel powerless at the casual disregard for the wellbeing of good, hard-working New Zealanders, they will feel they no longer have anything left to lose. And they will fight back.

Stewart says the division between rural and urban is at an all-time high, and anti-farming sentiment is a very real concern.

We understand. We really do. Our kids are being bullied at school because Dad is a commercial skipper.

These are skippers like Marcus in Raglan, who goes down to the wharf to pull hooks out of cormorants that the recreational fishers snag – or Mark, who has looked after a petrel colony under his deck on the Raglan Harbour for almost 20 years.

It would be an unwise policy-maker who didn’t see the tide beginning to turn. 

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