Whitebait fritter not a trifling matter

Whitebaiting is an iconic part of life that most New Zealanders take for granted, but this traditional harvest is now threatened by the damage we have wrought for a century or more on our waterways, but particularly in the last few decades with intensification of dairy farming.

Four out of the five fish in your whitebait fritter are listed as threatened due to freshwater degradation. Photo Fraser Lewry

Four out of the five fish that make up your whitebait fritter are listed as threatened primarily due to freshwater degradation. Photo Fraser Lewry

We have doubled the number of dairy cows in the country in 20 years and now use eight times as much fertiliser as we did 20 years ago. Now, four of the five species that make up your whitebait fritter are officially listed as threatened species.

And it’s not just the whitebait.  Now only sixteen of our fifty native fish species are not threatened; this is one of the highest proportions of threatened native fish species in the world. It’s important to remember, native fish are our freshwater ‘miners canaries’ the message is clear we have done too much damage.

It’s heart-breaking that in the pursuit of economic gains we have lost something so important to New Zealanders. Sadly now, the pleasure of fishing for and eating whitebait has been soured, what was once a birth right is yet another thing to feel guilty about.

The causes of freshwater declines are many but above all else it can be traced to the intransigence and lack of leadership [by] central government. They allowed the destruction of native fish habitats and the health of the waterways, by not making polluters and destroyers pay for their impacts – sadly eventually we all pay.

What makes the situation even more galling is that the economics of the dairy boom have yet to be truly analysed, no one has questioned the validity of claims that the dairy boom is good for the economy. The industry has spent millions commissioning reports that show the economic gains but have never included the multitude of costs in the analysis. If we had this honest analysis we could then decide what we really gain, if anything, from dairying while we lose our whitebait, swimmable rivers, our clean green image and so much more.

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