Anglers Doing Their Bit
By Jacob Lucas
A spade crunches into the earth, out goes some soil, in goes a tree. A red-band gumboot kicks the dirt back in and packs the soil snugly around the plant. Another native tree is in the ground, one of millions in any given year, accomplished by a band of kiwis who want to better our environment and leave behind a legacy.
Aotearoa is currently experiencing a surge in community-led conservation efforts, with many enthusiastic Kiwis like yourself joining in.
Any internet search of your own home region will reveal an extraordinary amount of grassroots conservation initiatives currently on the go. Habitat restoration, predator and weed control, and wetland creation all feature prominently. As an example, in my home region at the top of the South Island, the Tasman Environment Trust (TET) website informs viewers that 2569 traps have been set, 422114 native trees planted, and 24247 volunteer hours donated over their 25 or so environmental projects, pretty impressive figures for a small area. Battle for the Banded Rail, TET’s signature trapping project, alone has 1094 of these traps and has recorded nearly ten thousand pest kills to date.
A look at the traps.nz website map, a nationwide assembly of trapping projects, bears testament to 6405 trapping projects currently in operation spanning the entire country, accounting, no doubt, for millions of pests destroyed.
The point of all this is that there is a lot of good stuff happening across the country right now, and are we, a 150,000 strong group of anglers and game bird hunters, playing our part as users and benefactors of our natural environment?
In today's society, the concept of a "social licence" is frequently discussed, with numerous organisations striving to improve their standing or struggling to maintain it. Fish & Game (anglers and game bird hunters) are no exception. There has been a huge societal shift in recent years; urbanisation and increasing detachment from the rural sector, growing anti-trout sentiment, and a time-poor society, to name a few. What applied a decade or two ago no longer fits the bill of what the public expects or how we, as anglers and hunters (including the trout we love to catch), are now perceived. While there are massive challenges at a policy and government level which could have a huge bearing on the continuation of angling and hunting in the future, it is now more important than ever that we are viewed in a good light by the general public (think middle 80% on society’s bell curve). There are many instances in recent years that have shown that when you lose the support of the general public, you are in big trouble.
Put simply, our society now expects that if you are using or benefiting from a resource, you should be giving back in some way. To some extent, you already do this through purchasing a fishing licence and funding the significant environmental advocacy work done by Fish & Game. But now, more than ever, is the time to do more. We need to be actively seen by the public, and those in governance and policy-making, as being socially relevant and contributing to the public good.
Fish & Game are very cognisant of the challenges ahead, and many regions are actively promoting the good work we do and undertaking various initiatives to raise the profile of the organisation, but how can you get involved to help retain our social licence? Thankfully, there is plenty of low-hanging fruit ripe for the picking, and you can easily volunteer time on some of the many conservation projects in your region No organisation is required, just turn up and get stuck in. Your local Fish & Game office can also provide a good steer about projects on the go, and are likely engaged in a few of their own that you could join.
It is no surprise that anglers love being near rivers and lakes, and we have found that projects attached to these areas are more meaningful, so this is a good place to start. Find a place you love to fish in, and join some of the conservation projects happening there. There is scope to think even bigger and kick-start your own project, being sure to highlight that the work you do is by anglers. We also found that anglers love chatting with other anglers, so getting involved as a group is a good way forward too.
There may be times you’ll rub shoulders with others who may have certain views contrary to your own, and the key is to keep the chat positive, focus on the common ground, and definitely let them know you are an angler or hunter wanting to give back.
Casting the net wider, there are many possibilities to show that the work we do, as anglers and hunters of Aotearoa, can benefit the wider public outside of the environmental realm. Win-win scenarios such as that shown by the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation who provide free-range meat to food banks from aerial red deer culls certainly strikes a chord with the public, and paints the organisation and big game hunters in a favourable light. No matter what your views are on hunting, you can’t argue against a great cause such as that, and pleasingly there are other examples nationally of similar great initiatives taking place.
There will also be times after flood events, all too frequently in this age, when farmers and landowners will need a hand to get them back up and running. In fact, I can guarantee you that opportunities are likely to come your way soon. In the Nelson Marlborough region, we had terrific buy-in from the Nelson Trout Fishing Club and local fishing guides in the wake of several large-scale flood events. It was a chance for anglers to repay the generosity of farmers, many of whom allow access through their land for fishing. Mostly the work was manual such as clearing debris from fences and paddocks, but surprisingly, everyone really enjoyed the work while spinning yarns with fellow anglers, knowing what they were doing was helping others out. These actions were recognised by the public and the rural sector, going some way to enhance the value of anglers in the community.
By involving yourself in some of these projects, I can guarantee you will enjoy connecting with others, working towards a good public cause, and in some cases helping others who need it, all the while working to safeguard the future of what we love to do.
With so much good work currently underway, here's a shout-out to all the people already involved, and hopefully this inspires a few others to chip in.