Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Class and fish

Suppose you grew up in a place where only the well-to-do were ever allowed to fish for trout, where the working class only had access to 'rough fish', and you were a committed communist.

If you moved to a place where trout had been introduced and were protected through fishing licenses while some native species were in trouble and generally unprotected, what would you do?

Charlie Mitchell tells us over in the Stuff newspapers. The story almost seems unbelievable. But here it is.
The life of J. Stewart Smith was long, colourful, and driven by an uncommonly strong sense of purpose.

By the time he died in 2008, aged 95, Smith had left a permanent legacy in his adopted country's bloodstream – its network of ponds, rivers and lakes.

This account of Smith's life and legacy is based on official documents and hundreds of pages of Smith's personal notes obtained by Stuff, as well as interviews with people who knew him. several of whom requested anonymity.

They reveal an enigmatic figure largely forgotten in New Zealand's recent history, but one who has had an outsized, and permanent, impact on the country's environment.

"Imagine if one guy was responsible for the introduction of rats, possums, rabbits, stoats and pigs to New Zealand," one former official familiar with Smith's activities says.

"Stewart Smith was pretty much that guy, but he just did it to freshwater ecosystems around the country."
He was pretty clearly a Marxist eco-terrorist.
To understand why Smith did what he did, it pays to understand the long-simmering battle over who gets to fish what.

New Zealand has several dozen native freshwater fish, most of which are nocturnal, discrete, and tucked away in streams far from civilisation. Few of them grow larger than 10cm; they don't make for great angling.

Recognising this, early European settlers decided to bring their favourite sports fish with them: Trout. Trout flourished in New Zealand's cooler waters, with limited competition from native species. The trout fishery is now so prosperous it attracts anglers from around the world.

Some immigrants, including Smith, did not grow up trout fishing, which in England was a sport reserved for the elite. They fished for the so-called "coarse fish" – among them rudd, perch, tench and carp, named for their rough skin.

This class divide bled into New Zealand. While trout soon followed the immigrants, attempts to bring in coarse fish were rebuffed, largely because they would compete with trout.

And so Smith, who paid dues to New Zealand's communist party for much of his life and had a pathological dislike for social hierarchy, sought to equalise the playing field.
You really need to read the whole thing.

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