Government underestimating value of water based recreation

For years we have been hearing about the value of irrigation to the economy. We have been hearing from farmer groups, dairy and – of course – irrigation part suppliers themselves how important it is that the Government invest in this part of the economy. And the Government has without a doubt listened. Some (with justification)might say it has listened too well, shutting out reminders from others about how other uses of fresh water contribute to the economy as well.

I have no doubt that there is a significant value to the fresh water based recreation industry in New Zealand. We are very lucky to have the assortment of small medium and large rivers and lakes that we do and also to have had the ability to do quality research into their form and function. One estimate recently suggested that the value of both the fresh water and salt water recreation may be worth as much as N.Z.$1.7 billion and have created 8,100 jobs.

Even if one takes the salt water substantial fishing industry in New Zealand, and the catches of recreational fisherman seeking sea going species is put aside, there is still a quite substantial boost to the economy. A thesis by Jiang (2015)found that in Otago alone the value of recreational fishing might be anywhere between N.Z$88-130 million.

However I am quite bothered by the last 15 years of Government policy that has enabled a significant and currently ongoing deterioration of the quality of our fresh water, the ecosystem that it sustains and the economic and social benefits that arise from them. The policy is quite deliberately enabling users to take water that simply might not exist, and it is also breaking what for me is a cardinal rule of ensuring that fresh water under ones property leaves in as good condition as it arrived in.

What does this have to do with fresh water recreation? Much. Not least because deteriorating conditions may put off recreationalists and make them spend less time and money on the pursuits that I have described below. They might also tell their friends and/or family who might be considering joining them that the quality of the experience has deteriorated.

A healthy river will be flowing, and have a clean bed for fish species to spawn in. Around and above it will ideally be stable banks that do not collapse easily to silt the riverbed, enabling weed carpets to grow, slowing the flow of the water and covering areas for fish to spawn. The water will be of a condition that a dog can enter it without ingesting cyano bacteria which can be lethal.

A healthy river system will attract a range of fresh water recreationalists. Some might be there just for a swim if that is feasible, whilst others might be there to kayak, boat, or fish. In order to do so they might also invest substantial money in fishing gear, or a water going craft. All will expend vehicle fuel and time getting there. Some might even stay the night, pitching a tent or staying in building accommodation such as a house hotel/motel or camping ground nearby.


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