A Different Angle on Anglers

This blog post was written by postgraduate student Veronica Frans as part of the course, Research Methods in Ecology (Ecol 608). Veronica revisits a Lincoln University research area that look at the value of recreational fishing in the Rangitata published in 2004.
Many believe that it is the scientist who comes up with the evidence to support saving a given resource.  However, to win a conservation battle in the political field, one needs to look at all angles.  For Lincoln University’s Geoff Kerr and Glen Greer, focusing on the economic value of the Rangitata River in Canterbury was just the right ticket to get a move on.  In particular, they cast a line at recreational fishermen; although environmental factors were also regarded, as it was the everyday person who was the key to solving a conservation conflict.

The Rangitata River, by Jock Phillips

The Rangitata River flows from the Southern Alps and is 120 km long, where it ends at the Pacific Ocean in between Ashburton and Timaru on the East Coast of South Island.  The river is used by many for irrigation, swimming, kayaking, boating, bird watching, fishing and other purposes.  In 1999, New Zealand Fish and Game applied for the Canterbury Regional Council to create a Water Conservation Order for the Rangitata River, but it had yet to be done.  A Water Conservation Order is an official recognition by the Minister of the Environment that a particular water body holds some intrinsic or utilitarian value.  Once this recognition is in place, restrictions on its use would also apply.  This would protect the area in a way that would maintain the stated value, making it a powerful document in terms of conservation.  So in order for some water plan to be drafted for this river, its importance first needed to be defined.  In response to this, Lincoln’s two professors looked into the economic value behind protecting it.

For the economic value to be assessed, the research team phoned angler homes in the year 2000.  They asked them about the number of times they visited the river, the distance and costs for travel and how much was spent on gear.  It was found that anglers spent some $1100 on about 16 fishing trips to the Rangitata per year.  Mid-Canterbury anglers spent about 65% of their time fishing the Rangitata, while those from south Canterbury spent 59% and others spent 36%.  In central South Island alone, there were ~1560 licensed anglers, including 1060 from north Canterbury who fished at Rangitata.  Basing the survey on 44,000 visits and 36,000 angling days per year, they calculated that some $3 million a year is spent on fishing at Rangitata.

What would you do with 3 million dollars?  Well, the better question is what would you do if you lost it?  Geoff and Glen found that if the quality of the Rangitata and fish stocks were compromised, anglers would travel elsewhere for a better bite and Canterbury’s economy could lose that amount, if not more.  Although salmon and trout have been found to have negative impacts on native New Zealand species, recreational fishing has constituted a great part of the economy.  Fishing activities only represented two thirds of what people use the Rangitata for, so if other groups that could be potentially impacted by the river’s degradation were included, it was predicted that further financial consequences would occur.

Since the publication of their paper, a Water Conservation Order for the Rangitata River was finally made in 2006.  A tribunal report in 2002 quoted the final evaluations and financial implications from the survey and Geoff Kerr was also one of the many witnesses for the case.  It was not only the effort of Lincoln University and their research that won the case, but also the efforts of many other organizations and entities as well.

The Rangitata River is the second most heavily fished river for salmon and the third highest fished throughout New Zealand.  If it weren’t for these stakeholders—people who care and travel up to 250 km for a cast and are enthusiastic about it—this river wouldn’t be protected the same way it is today.  To the anglers out there: thank you for fishing and hope you get a big one next time.

“The Salmon Looms,” by Simon Bisson.

More information on Rangitata can be found here.

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