Saturday, January 8, 2011

Do we want to go in this direction?

I was disturbed recently by a newspaper story headed "Anglers to fight 'exclusive' deals to fishing spots". It reported a claim by the president of the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers, Jim Hale.

He says that parts of a number of rivers have been captured by "unscrupulous commercial interests". These interests apparently engage in "exclusive capture" arrangements with landowners, so that access to stretches of some rivers are locked up and thereby denied to Kiwi anglers, unless they are prepared to pay significant sums of money.

What is at play here is a conflict between competing 'rights'.

On the one hand, we have private property owners choosing to exercise their 'property rights' to restrict or manage or control who is able to cross their land, and thereby effectively controlling who is able to fish selected stretches of our rivers.

On the other hand there is the 'right' of all New Zealanders to access our rivers, which flow through numerous private properties, and often within what is called 'the Queen's chain' - a legal mechanism to define public ownership and access to waterways. Of course, with this access comes the right to fish, subject of course to licensing controls to ensure the fishery is sustainable.

So, the nub of the issue becomes this: are the waterways, and fish stocks within them, a private or a public good?

My view is that they are, and must remain, a public good. I have no difficulty with private property owners exercising their rights and controlling access to their own property. However, I do not accept that that right should allow them to unreasonably restrict access to our waterways. These must retain their public ownership, and the 'Queen's chain' to ensure the public can access the rivers themselves. While I have no wish to go fishing, I am firmly of the view that I, and my children, and their children, must have the right to do so.

I well remember seeing and being surprised by the sign in this photo we encountered in Strathtay, Scotland. The notice of "Private Fishing" I found, and still find, abhorrent. It is redolent of privilege, class, and elitism.

And those things my ancestors came to New Zealand to escape.

May we never see them re-emerge here.

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