By 3 News online staff
Conservation Minister Nick Smith is considering legal action against claims he bullied Fish and Game into ending its campaign for clean rivers and lakes.
The minister met with the Fish and Game Council in Wellington earlier this month where he was "deeply critical" of the organisation, says an attendee, Association of Freshwater Anglers president David Haynes.
Mr Haynes told NZ Newswire Dr Smith was "clearly displeased" about Fish and Game's current anti-irrigation billboard campaign calling for better water quality in the country's lakes and rivers.
"He specifically cited those billboards as something he's displeased with. The minister was firing a very clear warning shot across the bows of Fish and Game that 'I don't like that campaign, don't be noisy and pull your necks in'."
Mr Haynes said Dr Smith "also said we need to change the Fish and Game model. I have no idea what he meant by that [...] but it didn't sound very friendly."
Mr Haynes said he was highly insulted when Dr Smith told those present at the public meeting that the organisation "sometimes behaves like a rabid NGO, worse than Forest and Bird".
"It was a public meeting so I was very surprised to see he took that approach."
Three other people spoken to by Radio New Zealand have confirmed the minister's alleged bullying tactics.
Dr Smith has refuted the claims and is taking legal advice over them, saying Mr Haynes is a "long-time critic" of him, most recently over 1080 poison.
"He is not neutral and his deliberate misrepresentation of the meeting is driven by politics and the election season," he says.
Dr Smith says he has been a strong advocate for improving the country's water quality.
"I find his statements offensive and defamatory."
He has released handwritten notes, taken at the time by a Department of Conservation official responsible for Fish and Game who was at the meeting.
Dr Smith says the notes show a different sequence of events to what Mr Haynes is claiming, and is a more accurate account of what was discussed.
But his dismissal of the claims hasn't stopped Opposition parties taking shots at Dr Smith over the issue.
Labour conservation spokeswoman Ruth Dyson says Dr Smith has "overstepped the mark" as minister.
"Nick Smith doesn't understand boundaries. Time and time again throughout his career he has gone too far. He is a shining example of the arrogance and conflicts of interest of Team Key's Wall of Shame," she says.
"This is straight-out intimidation and he should offer his resignation."
Green Party water spokeswoman Eugenie Sage says it isn't good enough for the Conservation Minister to bully the organisation for doing their job and to threaten their legal powers.
"Under National, DOC's statutory advocacy role has been much reduced, so it's left to organisations like Fish and Game," she says.
United Future leader Peter Dunne says his party would oppose any moves to downgrade or reduce the advocacy role of the organisation. He believes the organisation is valuable as a balanced environmental and conservation advocate which should be enhanced, rather than reduced.
"Because of its relationship to recreational fishing interests in particular, it is both perfectly understandable and justifiable that Fish and Game should have strong views on matters that adversely affect the recreational fishery, and that it should promote those," he says.
"To threaten - directly or obliquely - to curtail their role because they perform it well, is unacceptable in any circumstances."
Fish and Game is a public organisation overseen by the minister but legally independent of the Government. Its role is to "manage, maintain and enhance sports fish and game birds and their habitats in the best long-term interests of present and future generations of anglers and hunters".
This goal has seen it clash with National Party plans to subsidise large-scale irrigation dams that are designed to intensify agriculture and grow the economy.
Environmentalists and scientists have argued such intensive agriculture will increase pollution rates in New Zealand waterways.
3 News/ NZN
source: newshub archive