28 Nov 2020

Fish and Game and Federated Farmers try to find some common ground

3:30 pm on 28 November 2020

Fish and Game and Federated Farmers have met up for a 'goodwill' meeting in an effort to work better together.

Grazing cows in green meadow of hilly countryside during sunset in new zealand

Many dairy farmers are trying to reduce their impact on waterways, the new chair of Fish & Game says. Photo: 123RF

The two organisations have regularly clashed in the past over issues of dairy farming, freshwater and sustainability.

But, six members of the NZ Fish & Game Council met with their counterparts from Federated Farmers on 22 November, for a "cordial get-together".

The groups discussed issues such as access, catchment groups, wetlands and connecting farmers with fishers and hunters.

"This meeting was pleasant, beneficial and long overdue," new Fish and Game Council chair Ray Grubb said.

Grubb said the country had reached a turning point on freshwater issues and that Federated Farmers

were responding to that shift.

"Making broad-brush statements about the primary sector is not appropriate given the work that many farmers are doing to reduce the impact of their activity on waterways."

Grubb said the starting point for the meeting was to find areas of common interest.

He admitted there may still be some difficulties around topics of national policy, but there was goodwill on both sides.

"It's better to consult than to confront," he said.

Federated Farmers acknowledged the tense relationship the organisations have had in the past and that some farmers and growers would have to put aside their "dislike and distrust" towards Fish and Game.

"We are not breaking out the marshmallows, lighting the camp fire, and singing Kumbaya together, but we both recognise that an adversarial approach really only benefits lawyers," Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard said.

"High-level board discussions are now underway and are leading the way forward to a more productive relationship," he said.

"We both love the outdoors and likely have more in common than we do in difference.

"We are not going to agree on everything, but we can at least disagree in a respectful manner that doesn't vilify either farmers or fishers in the eyes of one another."

Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard

Andrew Hoggard favours a more harmonious relationship between his organisation and Fish & Game. Photo: Radio NZ / Jemma Brackebush

But advocacy group Choose Clean Water NZ is worried the encounter could dilute Fish and Game's freshwater commitments.

"We believe the reason Federated Farmers is taking an interest in Fish and Game now is to weaken Fish and Game's work to protect freshwater," its spokesperson, Marnie Prickett, said.

Prickett said legal fights have more often been against agricultural industry bodies, like Federated Farmers, who she believed sought to weaken protection for rivers and lakes.

"If Fish and Game moves closer to Federated Farmers, it will undermine its mandate to protect freshwater habitat.

"Federated Farmers really needs to acknowledge the science that already exists out there on the impacts and drivers on the degradation of waterways. One of the big impacts is the intensification of agriculture."

If this is going to be a change of heart for Federated Farmers, she said, then they need to acknowledge the role of intensification.

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