Maine can learn from New Zealand’s fish disaster

New Zealand has suffered an environmental disaster that’s severely impacted everything from water supplies to fish. Throughout a recent edition of New Zealand’s Fish & Game magazine, this sad story was told.

Unregulated expansion of dairy and other farms, along with lots of development, has harmed their waterways, negatively impacting the environment. For example, 20% of the nation’s drinking water is at risk. They can’t even swim in many of their rivers and streams because of threats to human health, due to toxic algae.

Polluting nitrates from livestock is one key problem. New Zealand’s livestock population has skyrocketed. They now have 6 million cows, with most of the milk going to China. And farmers can take water from rivers and streams, as they wish. Runoff is also a big problem.

In one story, I read that the Selwyn River, which was renowned as a prized brown trout fishery, is in a state of collapse. Close to where it drains into Lake Ellsmore, the river is green, and the river’s flow has dipped 60% in 8 years. In 1964 their Fish and Game agency trapped 14,000 trout moving up the Selwyn River to spawn. In 1984, in the same area, just 40 fish were trapped.

Scientists discovered that, since the 1970s, water taken from rivers and aquifers, primarily for irrigation, increased dramatically, causing a significant decrease in river and stream flows.
One writer noted, “The New Zealand dairy industry has been acting like a mad beaver, polluting watersheds faster than you can milk a herd, all the while transforming our landscape dramatically – pragmatists would even say at a sickening, reckless pace.”

Brown trout are not the only fish suffering a sharp decline. From brook trout to salmon, things are going badly. Salmon are disappearing in the ocean. “Climate change has caused declines in wild salmon populations across the Pacific,” reported one writer.

Interestingly, some of these writers also blame visiting anglers for ruining their fishing experiences, crowding their favorite spots. I can relate to that!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.