Image for Kiwi PC ‘anti-exotic-phobia’ hooks Into trout

Pic:  Trout - deemed evil by New Zealand’s “anti-exotica phobia” adherents. Tony Orman with a brown trout from the South Island’s Pelorus River.

New Zealand’s wave of “political correctness” and in particular hatred of exotic species has hooked into trout. It’s a bizarre world of “anti-exotic” phobia says Tony Orman, a South Island conservationist, angler and author.

“New Zealand has this strange, off-the-planet phobia against introduced species but it’s very selective and hypocritical and of course totally unrealistic,” he says.

Provoking the reaction was an article in the “NZ Geographic” accusing trout of decimating native galaxid fish. Angus McIntosh of Canterbury University in New Zealand’s South Island, said “introduced trout are steadily killing off native fish.”

But hypocrisy abounds when zealots cut loose, says Tony Orman.

“This introduced tag is simply name calling but ignores that humans are introduced to New Zealand, firstly the Maori in the 14th century and Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries and they all introduced animals and plants, the Maoris the kiore rat and dog and Europeans sheep, cattle, deer, bumble bees and of course salmon and trout.”

He says critics of “introduced” species consume meat from introduced poultry, farm stock and garden and encourage “introduced” plant species such as as “introduced” vegetables, pasture grasses and flowers and shrubs.

“Angus McIntosh is no exception. That such anti-exotic P.C. nonsense comes from a university shows how entrenched the dogma is.”

Canterbury ecologist Rex Gibson of Christchurch was shocked by the attack on trout.

“As an Ecologist I am appalled by this amateurish article. The trout in the Canterbury rivers are themselves in rapid decline. This data is available from North Canterbury Fish and Game and is reflected in recent fishing licence changes. The decline in galaxiids is almost entirely due to other environmental limiting factors briefly referred to in the article; i.e. the consequences of land use intensification and modification (mostly for dairy) and significant wetland drainage,” he says. “The aquifer depletion through irrigation (water mining) and their replenishment have drained the streams and rivers referred to, resulting in major aquatic habitat loss.”

New Zealand conservationist author Bill Benfield in his book “The Third Wave” says the mantra “exotic bad, native good” has spread to much of the New Zealand public promoted by the rabid green group the Forest and Bird Society and the government’s Department of Conservation. The whole concept of evil introduced species is unrealistic.

“As all ecosystems are subject to variation and change, no particular instant in time can be caught and held as a frozen moment under some celestial bell jar.”

He wrote that it was “a quest for an ecological golden age, a conservation religion that is centred on a mythical green Avalon.”

Meanwhile trout have been in New Zealand for about 160 years, first liberated by the 19th century European colonists. Consequently trout have become established in virtually all river and lake systems. The length of existence in New Zealand is a point Tony Orman homes in on.

“Look this anti-trout hatred is codswallop. If trout were going to drive native species such as galaxids to extinction, they would have logically done it within 50 years. But the reality is trout and native species have settled into an ecological equilibrium. Whitebait a species of galaxids were strongly abundant throughout the 20th century with trout in all the rivers - a century after the initial release of trout.”

Only in the last few decades have whitebait declined. Tony Orman says academics afflicted by “anti-exotica phobia” should have worked that logic out.

“The fact that they haven’t, is alarming. Universities should be dealing in the real world not a fantasy mythical one.”

He said academics like Angus McIntosh should be concentrating on the depletion of aquifers and river flows by government driven policies aimed at creating lush dairy pastures in low rainfall areas like Canterbury and the MacKenzie Basin instead of wrongly maligning established trout fisheries. Contamination of waterways by nitrates from farming as well as clear felling commercial forestry practices were a threat to the habit of both trout and native fish.

Trout are now an established sports fish with over 150,000 New Zealand anglers as well as a major tourist attraction for thousands of globe trotting fly fishers. The value of trout is estimated to be a multi-million economic resource by way of domestic and international tourism.

*John McNab is a freelance roving journalist mainly domiciled in NZ’s South Island.