This blog is an open letter to Fish & Game NZ. The purpose? To move away from ‘chick sci’ and toward ‘cit sci’. The deliberately provocative ‘chick sci’ comments made by Southland’s (now former) Fish & Game Councillor Ken Cochrane on Monday January 24, highlight a wilful lack of engagement with science.
The comments also underscore wider public scepticism of science, as well as the methods used to harness data and shape decision-making. Yes, relationships with natural resource management agencies can be fraught when conservation objectives clash with historically established natural resource harvest methods, rates and cultures. However, sound management decision-making needs to rest on evidence. In this respect, Jo Starling’s recent blog post raises some important points:
…in the absence of our own [recreational fishers’] data about our activities and impacts in our waterways, managers must make assumptions based on the data and assertions of others (the commercial sector and others), whose motivations may not include the promotion of the recreational fishing cause. I’d rather have decisions affecting my ability and right to fish to be made with insights from other recreational anglers.
Citizen science can play a critical role
Fit for purpose data are needed for developing policy and managing our environment effectively – for now and into the future. There are many opportunities for recreational fishers and hunters to collect data (i.e. become citizen scientists) while engaged in the activities they enjoy. In NZ, citizen science activities generally focus on habitat quality. An example is using simple tools developed specifically for members of the public to help build a more complete picture of changes in stream water quality. Measuring changes in wetland condition is possible through WETMAK, a monitoring kit for wetlands with a suite of user-friendly protocols. Other tools are currently being developed through NIWA for communities and iwi to monitor lake health.
The demise of the grayling offers an interesting case study. Reports from the late 1800s and into the early 1900s describe “cartloads” being extracted from Marlborough’s Wairau River, a mill wheel on the Hutt River being clogged by the sheer abundance of fish as well as the fish being used as fertiliser for market gardens. Ironically, the grayling is the only native fish ever to have received full legal protection but only decades after it was last seen. A combination of factors most likely caused extinction: the introduction of trout and widespread forest clearance in the wake of European settlement. The long-finned eel is “At Risk – Declining” and 4 of the 6 whitebait species are variously described as threatened, declining, endangered and vulnerable. The remaining 2 species (banded kōkupu and common smelt) are not regarded as threatened.
Recreational fishing and conservation
Fish & Game NZ clearly wants to promote conservation, but there’s space for greater leadership to support conservation through well-crafted citizen science programmes designed to strengthen knowledge of the state of the natural resources. Aside from improved species and habitat management, a further outcome to consider is enhanced scientific literacy. Increasing the public’s understanding of scientific method breaks down barriers between the wider public and science communities, as well as gives communities a stronger voice in decision-making fora. Slamming science through sexist comments achieves nothing for managing a taonga (treasured) suite of fish species. Again, Jo Starling wraps up it up nicely:
We are a strong contingent of outdoors people who depend on the health of the natural environment for our escape from routine, to foster a sense of true freedom and to provide a healthy pastime to share with family and mates. Why on Earth, then, would we not do everything in our power to help inform the decisions around the maintenance and protection of the resources that sustain it?
Cooke, A. Citizen science captures recreational data: More information on the recreational take is emerging from the development of the Track My Fish app, which in turn is leading to better recreational fishing. FISH Vol 25 4
Walrond, C. 2005. Out of the frying pan: Into oblivion. NZ Geographic 75
Dunn, N.R. et al. 2018. Conservation status of New Zealand freshwater fishes 2017. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 24, NZ Department of Conservation.