Conservation Minister Nick Smith is considering legal
action after he was accused of trying to stop advocacy group
Fish and Game from lobbying for cleaner rivers.
Dr Smith attended a meeting with Fish and Game Council, an
independent advocacy group, on July 18.
Association of Freshwater Anglers president David Haynes said
Dr Smith bullied councillors at the meeting and appeared to
be trying to get them to pull back on their lobbying on water
"From my perspective it was very [clear] they were being
castigated. It could be construed as political interference
-- this was about telling Fish and Game to wind their neck
in," Mr Haynes told Radio New Zealand.
Mr Haynes' account was backed by three other people at the
Dr Smith rejected these claims, saying a Department of
Conservation official had taken a record of the meeting which
did not match the accusations of political interference.
He told Radio New Zealand he wanted Fish and Game to engage
more with agriculture and irrigation in order to get the best
outcomes for freshwater quality.
"While it is absolutely right for them to advocate for
freshwater, I do think they sometimes got into the space of
being anti New Zealand's most important industry, that being
the dairy industry."
The minister released the DOC official's notes this morning.
One of the bullet points in the notes said: "F&G need to
work out what they want to be: a statutory body [with]
legislation and a relationship with Government, or an NGO?"
Dr Smith's office confirmed he was considering legal action
against Mr Haynes, though no further details were given.
The Fish and Game Council was established under the
Conservation Act, but it is an independent organisation
funded by fees from hunting and fishing licenses. It reports
to Parliament and has formal statutory obligations to develop
national policy on managing and conserving sports fishing and
Mr Johnson said the minister had implied at the meeting that
the organisation would be restructured if it did not tone
down its stance on water quality.
"He said that he's worried that Fish and Game is losing its
way, that Fish and Game struggles with being a Government
statutory body and instead is being a rabid NGO," he said.
"So he made it very clear to everyone there that he wants to
see us toning down our advocacy for clean water."
United Future leader Peter Dunne said Fish and Game should be
"Issues like the impact of dairy intensification, or major
new irrigation schemes on water quality are obvious matters
of interest to Fish and Game and the interests they are
obliged by law to represent and advocate for.
"To threaten -- directly or obliquely -- to curtail their
role because they perform it well, is unacceptable in any
circumstances," he said.
Labour's conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson said Dr Smith
had "yet again" overstepped his mark as a minister.
She pointed to previous cases of claims of political
interference by Dr Smith, such as his lobbying for a friend's
ACC claim while he was ACC Minister, and allegations that he
gagged DOC over its concerns about the impact of a new dam in