Whitebaiters take aim at Conservation Bill

Whitebaiters from around New Zealand are joining forces with the West Coast Whitebaiters Association in a bid to have the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill thrown out of Parliament.

West Coast Whitebaiters Association president Cheryl Riley said it seemed the legislation was being "sneaked" through Parliament.

Support had rolled in from whitebaiters around the country saying the bill was flawed, with little or no consultation, and included a "racial element".

"Whitebaiters, farmers and rural communities are deeply suspicious that the bill is being sneaked through Parliament without anyone noticing," Mrs Riley, of Hokitika, said.

Commercial eel industry, flounder and mullet fishermen were also opposed, and expressed doubts about how iwi exemptions could be implemented.

Bill Chisholm, representing freshwater fishermen, said the proposed exemption for Maori under treaty settlement rights could prompt accusations of race-based legislation.

"Admittedly, there are one or two provisions in the bill which tidy up existing anomalies and improve management of freshwater fish, especially those relating to pest fish, but the bill is divisive and a poorly disguised power grab. It will generate a significant backlash from whitebaiters, jetboaters, commercial fishermen, farmers and sports fishermen," Mr Chisholm said.

Meanwhile, Mrs Riley said she and other volunteers from the whitebaiters association were visiting as many rivers as possible to hand out information on the bill as they understood it, calling for catch data to be held confidentially by the association and especially making submissions to the amendment bill.

The association was looking at calling meetings in Haast and Hokitika or Greymouth for those needing clarification on filling out submissions, she said.

National Party list MP Maureen Pugh said the West Coast way of life was under serious threat: "Our ability to earn a living, whitebaiting, mining, eels and tahr hunting are all on the Minister of Conservation's hit list.

The West Coast whitebait season is already shorter than anywhere else in New Zealand and I am worried that if this bill is passed she will have the ability to close the season for up to five years. None of us want to threaten the species with extinction but this bill is not the way to protect the stock."

Mrs Riley called on whitebaiters to stand up and be counted.

"If you want to maintain a West Coast tradition that has been handed down to you from your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, you need to stand up against this bill. You need to fill out a submission and do your best to ensure that the whitebaiting fishery remains for your family, your whanau and those yet to come."


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