Speaker by Various Artists

15

Hook, Line and Sinker – National’s Empty Bribe to Rec Fishers

by Dave Hansford

Whenever something distasteful oozes to the surface, the Government mounts some artful distraction to keep the public’s eye off the ball. In its final-term legislative spree, National is pushing through the most unpopular elements of its right-wing agenda – RMA reforms, the TPPA, state housing sell-offs, the Canterbury council coup – at an accelerated pace. Then there are the tainted pratfalls – Dirty Politics, revelations around GCSB spying on foreign government officials, child poverty, the ‘rock star’ economy that actually hasn’t had a number-one hit for many a year.

Governments always keep a stock of sweeteners/distractions to hand at times like this, just in case the media and the public notice these unsavoury issues and asking awkward questions. Lately, John Key has kept them preoccupied with the idea of a new flag, and last week, Nick Smith and Nathan Guy re-floated a favourite: “recreational fishing parks” in the Hauraki Gulf and Marlborough Sounds.

Fishing parks have been a staple distraction/election bribe for years now. The proposal of last September, bang before the election, closely mimicked a similar sweetener announced – you guessed it – just before the 2008 election. To be fair, any campaigning party would be negligent in NOT throwing a baited hook out to the rec fishing electorate: an estimated 600,000 people go salt water fishing at least once a year, with 81,000 going out at least once a week. What’s more, rec fishers often tend to be distinctly positional, nay militant, about what they roundly regard as a birthright. Of course politicians will chase that vote.

The argument over fisheries normally rages between the rock of recreation and the very hard place of commercial fishing. Each side blames the other for the seasonal, annual and multi-annual paroxysms of fish stocks. In the middle are iwi, left trying to prosecute their own pan-generational strategy for fisheries.

To offer recreational fishers some enshrined grounds, like the inner Hauraki Gulf (more than 178,000 rec fishers are reckoned to live around the inner Gulf), to the banishment of commercial vessels, is sweet music indeed from the piper’s flute of Nathan Guy. He says he will set aside inner Hauraki Gulf waters – those roughly coincidental with current management boundaries known as Statistical Area 7, the shallowest of Fisheries Management Area 1 – “so families in Auckland ... can continue to enjoy one of the country’s best-loved pastimes.”

In the Marlborough Sounds the proposal roughly equates to the established blue cod management zone, but doesn’t preclude marine farms or commercial harvest of paua, scallops or crayfish.

But here’s an odd thing: trawling, pair trawling and Danish seining is already banned from Area 7. Indeed, most of the Gulf is off-limits to trawlers and seiners longer than 20m. The only commercial fishing going on in Area 7 at all is a little low-intensity long-lining, potting and set-netting for snapper, flounder, john dory, crayfish and kahawai. The story in the Marlborough Sounds is much the same: finfishing would be banned, but existing fisheries – snapper, groper, bass and blue cod – are, according to National, already low-value. Guy says these fishers would have to venture further out to sea or go out of business.

Last November, John Key told the Ponsonby Cruising Club that affected fishers who could not move on would be offered compensation from a package of between $5m and $20m.

This is something of a departure from a Government that has steadfastly refused to discuss proposals from conservationists to buy fishers out of set net quotas along the North Island west coast that continue to present a threat to the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin. Presumably, Auckland votes are more valuable than the last few strands of DNA of the 55 surviving animals – the world’s rarest marine dolphins.

Environmentalists might applaud any move to banish commercial fishing from inshore waters, but let’s take a more critical look at this: the parks exclusively disadvantage small-scale, mostly solo operators – owner-fishers, or those fishing under leased quota. Typically, vessels are small, shorter than 20m, and finfish are often caught by bottom and middle-depth long-lining, a low-impact method with which skilled fishers can target precisely the species they want.

Yes, there’s still some by-catch, but let’s remember that a hook with an unwanted species – or a seabird – on it doesn’t turn the fisher a buck. In recent years, inshore fishers have developed more polished setting techniques and adopted new gear to reduce that very overhead. Some have put equal energy into imaginative innovations and practices that lessen seabird bycatch or prevent it altogether.

Guy and Smith cannot seriously expect these fishers to move such operations into the outer gulf – they would have to borrow tens, if not hundreds, of thousands to invest in bigger vessels and heavier gear, more sophisticated nav equipment, and probably deckhands. In short, they would have to try to enter the already burgeoning offshore fishery dominated by big pair trawlers and seiners. Twenty million dollars of compensation – in total, for both Marlborough and Hauraki – probably wouldn’t even cover the value of lost Hauraki inshore quota. The suggestion is laughable. Yet their press release assures us that these are not significant businesses.

Besides, do we really want shut down such low-impact, artisanal fisheries? In their wake will go the processing plants, transport and marketing businesses they support, such as Leigh Fisheries. For a Government to throw such local industry to the wolves while our frigates stand helplessly by while pirates pillage the Ross Sea of thousands of tonnes of toothfish doesn’t just look callous: it looks downright cynical.

So just what are National’s fisheries parks supposed to achieve for fisheries management? Certainly not stock enhancement. Rec fishing catches are already regulated by bag limits. Last April, the limit for snapper along the east coast of the North Island dropped from nine fish per person, per day to seven, and the size limit increased from 27cm to 30cm. Those limits are meant to constrain recreational snapper catch between North Cape and the eastern Bay of Plenty to 3050 tonnes – the estimated five-year average catch of all recreational fishers.

Declaring a fishing park doesn’t change any of the figures or dynamics of the Gulf snapper fishery – except to offer those fish that would be taken off the commercial sector to the fishing public. Of the total landed recreational Gulf catch over the 2011-2012 summer, a shade under 80 per cent was snapper, calculated by NIWA to weigh in at 2490 tonnes. Total snapper stocks in there are estimated at just over a quarter of their unfished biomass of 1000 years ago, and fisheries managers are still concerned for the health of the fishery.

If National were trying to achieve something for conservation, then, they would instead get behind no-take marine reserves. New Zealand has signed up to international agreements promising to protect 10 per cent of our total marine environment in no-take reserves by 2020. With five years to run, just 0.4 of our EEZ is protected. In 2000, surveys of three coastal reserves found that legal-size snapper (27 cm at the time of survey) were 14.3 times more abundant inside marine reserves compared with fished areas. A comparative survey at the Poor Knights recorded a 300 per cent increase in legal-sized snapper in the first year of protection. When compared with fished control sites, snapper were found to be 8.3 times more numerous in the marine reserve after just three years.

The spillover effect on rec catches from a comprehensive, representative network of no-take reserves would seem to be obvious. Yet new marine reserves take an average ten years to establish in New Zealand, and rarely realise the full extent originally proposed, thanks in part to dogged opposition from rec fishing groups like LegaSea and iwi.

In March, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the creation of an 834,334-square-kilometre marine reserve – roughly three and a half times the size of the UK – around the Pitcairn Islands. Last September, Barack Obama hung a no-fishing sign on one of the planet’s biggest marine environments when he increased the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument near Hawaii by more than 500 per cent to 1.2 million square kilometres.

By contrast, the National Government’s response to an ailing inshore marine environment was to cynically offer it up as an election bribe to fishing fans. Again. Nathan Guy will never deliver on his promise. The 2008 bid failed in the face of industry litigation, and so will this one. Iwi were not even consulted, and they too, will rightly oppose it.

Non-fishing taxpayers should, too. Why should they bankroll a gambit that benefits just a couple of hundred thousand people in two narrow localities? There are well-established, legally enshrined property rights at stake here. If rec fishers want to acquire quota from the commercial sector, they should pay for it, just like commercial fishers have to. A fishing license fee would be an excellent way to start, as the Australian Government has already decided.

National, of course, knew all along that this proposal cannot, will not, fly. But it probably won them some votes. 

24

Scoop.co.nz's Operation Chrysalis - Ask Me Anything

by Alastair Thompson

Scoop.co.nz is a website with which I am sure Public Address readers are familiar. New Zealand's largest independent online news publisher by audience size, Scoop reached 324,791 NZ users over the last 31 days.  Over the past four weeks we have been running a crowd-funding campaign for something we are calling "Operation Chrysalis", which as the name suggests, is about transformation. 

The intention of this post is that the comment thread be used as an Ask Me Anything  opportunity for you to ask questions you have about Scoop's ""Operation Chrysalis" plans.

We will be promoting this post and discussion on Scoop and encourage you to share the link with people who you think will be interested in the future of Scoop. And please do ask me anything. I will - to the best of my ability - respond directly and succinctly.

Scoop's Dilemma - How To Support The Tree

The easiest way to explain the origins of the "Operation Chrysalis" project is to use a metaphor.

Think of Scoop as a Tree.

And think of the central "professional” value provided by Scoop as its Fruit, ie:

a) access to a large influential audience;

b) a complete set of timely information;

c) a rich accessible database of content.

Scoop’s users (and the government and society broadly) benefit from these Fruit.

The Fruit only exists because access to the Tree is free - both to contributors and readers.

But unless there is a Tree there will not be any Fruit.

So how can we get Scoop's readers and contributors to support the Tree?

The objective of "Operation Chrysalis" is therefore to find a method to sustainably fund the tree - i.e. Scoop's free to access and free to publish publishing operation.

A New Ownership Structure & A New Business Model

Operation Chrysalis has two main legs.

  1. To reboot our relationship with our contributors and readers - and to make it more commercial and sustainable;
  2. To restructure Scoop as an organisation so that it better reflects the reality of the situation - i.e. that Scoop is a cooperative effort;

The Scoop response to Leg One is our idea of an "Invisible Paywall" - an aspect of "Operation Chrysalis" which has to date had only minimal exposure.  I deal with in the next section of  this post.

Meanwhile Leg Two is the reason behind our decision to turn Scoop into a not-for-profit news organisation - we also hope this will build a stronger trust relationship between Scoop and its readers. This was the basis of the Pledgeme crowd-funding campaign which hit its initial target $30,000 last week.

The Business Solution To "Operation Chrysalis" - An Invisible Paywall

Towards the end of February an article - somewhat ironically published behind NBR's paywall  - contained the Scoop on Scoop's plan to solve its long term sustainability problem.

Campbell Gibson's article revealed that Scoop intends to begin charging its at-work professional users -  those who regularly use Scoop for work purposes  - for accessing Scoop.  We are calling this initiative an "Invisible Paywall".

Scoop first discussed its "invisible paywall" intentions  at Nethui in 2012. But as 2015 begins - and online advertising revenues continue to tank - we now intend to pursue them more vigorously.

We acknowledge that the "Invisible Paywall" is a novel approach to online content monetisation and that it is likely to raise a few eyebrows. That said, Scoop's - free to publish,  free to search and free to read - news release publishing model is also as far as we are aware novel.

Companies, individuals and organisations which use Scoop are being informed that if they use Scoop routinely as part of their work that they need to have a license to do so. License fees start at $420 pa  for organisations with up to 20 staff and increase to $2940 pa for organisations with up to 4000 staff. If you regularly use Scoop as part of your work consider yourself informed.

Organisations and businesses who choose not to pay have the choice of not using Scoop and/or blocking access to Scoop from their networks. However we are hoping that  if the full circumstances around our "Invisible Paywall" are explained, enough businesses and organisations will be willing to contribute to make Scoop sustainable.

That said, so far the introduction of this new approach has been a fairly steep learning curve.

At the end of January we wrote to Universities and Technical Colleges about our change in policy and suggested they start paying us. Universities are among our biggest users. The universities response which arrived via an article behind NBR's paywall -  was to claim that they do not use Scoop. We thought somewhat disingenuous given the significant levels of university usage shown in our logs.

As Jan Rivers pointed out in this column, Universities routinely pay huge sums to access databases of news and other content shows and clearly understand the importance of being compliant with copyright law. 

In the end the success of "Operation Chrysalis" will likely be dependent on us convincing "business" users of Scoop like Universities to pay for the value that Scoop provides them. If sufficient numbers are willing to do so - at a relatively low per-user cost - then Scoop's future will be assured. If not then we will need to come up with a plan B.

Either way we will find out in the next few months.

Conclusion

After 16 years of daily publishing Scoop has become part of the NZ internet furniture, a constant feature of the place that everybody expects to be around forever.  Russell has described Scoop as "The Home of the National Argument" a description which captures the fact that Scoop seeks to be a big-tent containing the views of all sides of all arguments. 

It is the Scoop team's sincere hope that Scoop will continue to be this big tent for many years to come - to enable every voice to be heard in NZ's public policy debates - and to provide a window for the public to view these debates as they occur.  We have always believed that in providing these things we are strengthening NZ's democracy. And it is for this reason that we have for so long fought tenaciously to keep Scoop alive and independent.

And this is the objective of "Operation Chrysalis".  I hope you support it. 

If you do I encourage you to say why in the comment thread below. A compilation of endorsements may assist us in convincing the establishment of the merits of our "Invisible Paywall" approach.

You might also consider contributing to our Pledgeme campaign.

As I say in the video and blurb for that campaign - I strongly believe Scoop is the best chance an emerging independent online news internet community in New Zealand has of establishing a platform for news capable of withstanding the heavy weather our industry has ahead.

8

Ian Jorgensen: Images from A Movement

by Ian "Blink" Jorgensen

A Movement is a series of 10 themed art books collecting the remarkable music photography of Ian "Blink" Jorgensen from 2000 to 2015. Jorgensen has been an artist manager, tour manager, festival promoter, record label owner, author, publisher, musician and music provocateur. But before all that, and through all that, he was a photographer.

Ian has kindly given us 11 key images from A Movement that tell his story in music. You can see, touch and purchase the full set (and hear some great music too) at the launch tour through until April 4.

There are also a few screenings of an accompanying film, Movement.

106

The Agony of Vanuatu and the New Climate Colonialism

by Dave Hansford

We used to detonate atomic bombs among the Pacific peoples – now we drop weather bombs. Vanuatu lies in ruins. Aid workers arriving in Port Vila have already described the death toll and damage as catastrophic, and Vanuatu’s lands minister, Ralph Regenvanu, expects that much of the population – 266,000 people – will have been affected. Eight people are confirmed dead so at time of writing, but more will almost certainly be reported as communications are re-established with the country’s many remote offshore islands.

“This is the worst disaster to affect Vanuatu ever, as far as we know,” Regenvanu told media yesterday.

Everybody is blaming a Category Five tropical storm called Pam. But in fact, we all had a hand in Pam’s rampage across the Pacific, which also mangled Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. I drove my car just yesterday, and I probably will again today, as though nothing has happened. After all, it looks like New Zealand will get away pretty lightly – again.

As usual, nobody – except bloggers and climate campaigners – will present Pam as the unqualified enfant terrible of climate change. But they will suggest the link, as already has Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice president and special envoy for climate change. You already know how this goes:

I don’t think I would say climate change caused (Cyclone) Pam, but I would say the fact is in the past three or four years we’ve seen category fives coming with a regularity we’ve never seen before. And that has some relationship with climate change. It is indisputable that part of the Pacific Ocean is much warmer today than in previous years, so these storms are intensifying.

That’s fair comment. Wind speeds of up to 270 km/h have not so far been common – only Orson in 1989 and Monica in 2006 have matched her, but in terms of sustained wind speeds, Pam has hiked a furious new bar. At the bottom of it all lies some incontrovertible physics. Warmer air can hold more moisture – roughly four per cent for every 0.6ºC increment – one reason blizzards shut down New England cities in January. More moisture means more energy, higher wind speeds, more destruction.

Those doing all they can to avoid action on climate change – governments, industries, corporations, business lobbies – will go on insisting that no link has been proven, much like the one the tobacco industry insists doesn’t exist between smoking and the premature death of its sales base.

But scientists are getting bolder in their findings, and more assertive about presenting them. In January, researchers published a paper that found 35 per cent of the deluge unleashed by Superstorm Sandy, the Atlantic Hurricane that killed a least 233 people in eight countries, was a consequence of climate change. And there, at the very least, lies one truth we cannot go on denying: such storms are not conjured by climate change, but it undoubtedly makes them very much worse.

New Zealand has lately donated between $14m and $12m in development aid to Vanuatu each year. Much of what that helped build is now rubble. Vanuatu must start over, beginning with $1m of emergency funding from us and AUS$5m from Australia. The Government would likely point to such largesse as nothing more than the compassion of a good Pacific neighbour, but while it’s happy to be seen bankrolling band aids for the symptoms of climate change, it cynically obfuscates action to ease the cause.

Come December, a New Zealand delegation will sit down in Paris at what commentators are calling our last, best chance to reach agreement on climate action. Our Climate Change Minister, Tim Groser, has been tight-lipped about the position they will take there – unsurprising, since Cabinet has yet to announce any post-2020 emissions commitment targets (the deadline for our national plan is the end of this month). But pre-2020, our commitment has looked less than total – a cut of just five per cent from 1990 levels – and a number of countries have called us out on it.

In 2012, Naderev Saño, lead climate negotiator for the Philippines, broke down midway through his address to the COP18 climate talks at Doha. Overwhelmed by the destruction of his homeland by the shrieking violence of typhoon Bopha: he begged for action: “I appeal to ministers: no more delays, no more excuses. Turn things around at Doha. Let 2012 be the year the world found its courage.”

That was, instead, the year Aotearoa walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, even as climate bad boy Australia confirmed its re-commitment to what was the only binding climate game in town. In doing so, the National-led Government neatly escaped having to pay any penalties in the event of missed targets, which will likely be the case.

Now, New Zealand is party instead to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an entirely voluntary proposition that provides the perfect set of eminently moveable goal posts and vertiginous playing field the Government much prefers.

Groser, who by now must be suffering OOS from having his fingers perpetually crossed behind his back, defends our climate position in artful language: in 2013, he insisted that our dismal five per cent target “demonstrates that New Zealand is doing its fair share to address global climate change.”

In fact, Ministry for the Environment briefings show that the only way New Zealand might meet even this pitiful token is by buying cheap overseas “hot air” carbon credits at an estimated cost of $68m. Without them, we’re on track to blow out to a roughly 20 per cent increase in emissions – more than 130 million tonnes extra – by 2020, and a 50 per cent rout by 2050.

Yet Groser must have been feeling lucky, because he went still further to claim the target “compares favourably with our traditional partners’ actions”, assuming that nobody would go away and check, thereby discovering that the UK and EU had actually committed to cuts of 30 per cent and 20 per cent respectively over the same period.

Aotearoa has become a pariah at climate talks, not least because it leads a camp seeking “opt-in, opt-out” provisions, and a ban on any legally-enforceable penalties should national targets be missed. It also seeks to have the warming effect of methane – one of New Zealand’s most voluminous pollutants – redefined so as to lessen our total emissions.

It continues to seek exemption for agriculture, claiming – fatuously – that it is our role to “feed the world”, when in reality we barely figure in the grand scale of global food production rankings (we’re the largest global trader in dairy, but not the biggest producer by some margin).

It insists that, given our preponderance of hydro power, there’s little more we can do to curtail energy emissions, as though our almost entirely fossil-fuelled land transport and industrial energy sectors were not, in fact, the fastest-growing sources of new emissions. As though this Government hadn’t borrowed billions for an orgy of motorway building. As though it hadn’t slashed spending on public transport, walking and cycling, even as it woed oil and gas companies with $8m of enticements last year.

Our delegates point also, to the fact that we have an emissions trading scheme. Well, yes we do, and it’s widely recognised as one of the most dysfunctional, ineffective and grossly unfair regimes to have been floated anywhere. It has repeatedly exempted farmers, who are responsible for nearly half of all New Zealand emissions, and will likely go on doing so until somebody summons the courage to start making them pay for their own pollution, as the forestry and energy sectors are already forced to do. Most significantly, it has manifestly failed to make the slightest dent in greenhouse emissions. This is the travesty the Government offered up as “New Zealand’s primary tool to help reduce New Zealand’s emissions and help New Zealand meet its international obligations ...” when it signed the Majuro Declaration for climate leadership in the Pacific in September 2013.

But of all our deceits around the climate table, the one that raises the most ire is our insistence that, because New Zealand contributes something like 0.15 per cent of global emissions, our response should be somehow commensurate until, as Groser has stated, “we can see more effective global action. Then we will increase the pace.” In other words; “you go first.”

Breathtakingly, he told Lisa Owen late last year that he believed the key to success was “to get more countries to do stuff.” Until recently, Groser has been able to point to China and the U.S. and chant the same facile excuse that, so long as the world’s largest emitters had shown no commitment, we should feel no moral compunction ourselves. As though New Zealanders were not the fourth-highest per capita emitters on the planet.

But in November last year, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping announced a bold deal to slash their respective countries’ greenhouse gases. The U.S. has pledged to double its current reduction trajectory, to between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 – on top of the 17 per cent reduction it’s already committed to before 2020. China has promised that its climate emissions will peak by 2030 (its dependence on coal-fired generation means it’s starting from the back of the grid). The EU has already adopted a new, higher target of 40 per cent reductions by 2030 that it will take to Paris.

It will be fascinating to see how the New Zealand Government responds to this gauntlet. The game is well and truly up: the last of its excuses has been whipped out from under it. Any further attempts to weasel out of meaningful binding reductions, to cynically sandbag our agricultural exports behind a wall of protectionism, to keep on denying our role and responsibility as a global citizen at this last, best chance for action, will be received very poorly.

New Zealand has a history of colonialism in the Pacific, its copybook blotted by the annexation of Samoa, and its subsequent shameful treatment of Samoan independence fighters. Today, we see a new kind of colonialism, in which the interests, the welfare – even the survival – of our Pacific neighbours is still a matter of minor importance compared to those of the business interests that this Government believes are all that shore up our domestic economy. So it will slip another cheque inside a condolences card and send it to Vanuatu. Let’s hope that the Government has more stomach for this cynical climate colonialism than the voting public.

As I write this, people are being evacuated from coastal communities along the East Coast. Pam, and the superstorms that will inevitably follow, will draw ever closer, and ordinary New Zealanders will one day understand the agony of Vanuatu, and Tuvalu, and Kiribati, and finally behold our true place and predicament on this small, shared planet. Maybe then we can approach the climate table with our heads high, and our fingers uncrossed. Look our Pacific neighbours in the eye. Because we’re all in this together …

55

1080, "eco-terrorism" and agendas

by Dave Hansford

When he labelled a threat to contaminate infant milk formula with 1080 Tuesday as “eco-terrorism”, John Key was drawing on equal parts opportunism and ignorance.

Clearly, the revelation that Fonterra and Federated Farmers had been posted, back in November, 1080-laced milk packages was a gift to the Prime Minister, who has for months now been trying to convince us that his cavalier attitude to public surveillance and enabling laws has all been for our own protection. The opportunity to get the “t” word onto the front page was irresistible and eagerly seized, but when he prefixed it with “eco”, he knew not what he was saying or doing, because none of us has any clear idea what “eco-terrorism” is.

The two prevailing definitions almost contradict one another – one calls it an act of terrorism committed by “environmentalists” – whoever or whatever they are – while the other calls it an act of destruction against the environment, often for political ends.

The baby formula threat clearly shrugs off the first definition, because nobody concerned about the environment would do such a thing. That leaves a political motive, and now we’re getting warm. Here, Key may well be right for all the wrong reasons. He’s had his back to the environment for so long that he probably doesn’t understand that the vast bulk of opposition to 1080 in New Zealand – certainly the best-organised and funded – has a political, not environmental, motivation.

There are, broadly speaking, two wellsprings of anti-1080 sentiment in this country. One is a largely reasonable, mostly peaceful-though-passionate sector sitting out left of the green movement. These people are vehemently opposed to the broad-scale application of any toxin, for whatever end.

This is not unreasonable – it would be difficult to find anyone on either side of the 1080 imbroglio comfortable with the notion of laying poison. But many of these opponents can only hold their strident position if they ignore 60 years’ worth of inconvenient truths – intensive field research, toxicology studies, persistence tests, public health studies and monitoring – and chant instead many execrable claims about ecological collapse and endocrine disruption.

Only a month ago, a former public health worker insisted to me that what she believed was a disproportionate incidence of cancer in Southland was down entirely to the application of 1080. When I asked her just how it was supposed to get into the human food chain, when it been proven in dozens of studies and simulations not to persist in water, she said “well, they’re all hunters down there aren’t they?”

The media could have laid all this to rest years ago, simply by reporting that which has already been scientifically, empirically established, peer-reviewed and published in a whole library of academic journals. But as we know, editors – especially those struggling with falling readership – love stories with “legs” – those that run on and on. Reported straight, 1080 would in fact, have rather short legs. But mainstream media has given it stilts by faithfully quoting a now-familiar litany of risible claims, knowing that will keep the letters to the editor coming.

In January this year, a piece in The Press, '1080 Drop May Have Killed Rare Birds' penned by Helen Murdoch, led with the inflammatory line:

The Battle for our Birds campaign may have almost wiped out a population of the very species it aimed to protect in Kahurangi National Park.

This sort of intro is a gift to the hunting lobby, and, it turns out, that’s who it was faithfully parroting. The claim had been made by long-time 1080 opponent Bill Wallace, who had filed an OIA with DOC to find out about the number of rock wren re-recorded following a drop last October. Of 39 birds noted before the operation, only 14 were found again after it. Wallace – and The Press – went large with the assertion that the birds had been poisoned. Wallace then extrapolated, and claimed that the rock wren was only rare because of 1080, a position that ignores everything studied learned and recorded about stoat predation on rock wrens. That too, was dutifully reported without check.

What the piece only told readers in passing, well down the order, was that a storm had blanketed the drop area in heavy snows days after the 1080 operation. It was entirely plausible – likely, in fact – that the missing birds had simply headed down-valley to escape the worst of the weather for a while. After all – and this critical point was never made – the birds were not found dead, they were simply not re-located.

Wallace’s claims rightly belonged in the opinion section – he had presented not a jot of evidence to support them (and the journalist had asked for none) but here they were, a hidden agenda cloaked in junk ecology, being reported in a metro daily as news.

In 2009, hunters and 1080 opponents Clyde and Steve Graf released an anti-1080 DVD, Poisoning Paradise – Ecocide in New Zealand – funded in part by the Deerstalkers’ Association – which claimed, among other things, that an aerial 1080 operation in Nelson Lakes National Park had killed 12,000 native birds. The Press duly ran a story, entitled Our Poisoned Land?'

There was a photograph of the two hunters with nine tiny, feathered corpses lying in the snow. And therein lay the first clue that all might not have been as it seemed; old birds, or males that cannot secure optimal territory with adequate food supplies, routinely die in winter, when the operation took place.

Furthermore, the nine birds were all the pair recovered; their tally of 12,000 deaths was, they told me in a subsequent interview; a “tongue-in-cheek” figure they claim to have extrapolated by “turning DOC’s science on itself.” DOC duly performed post-mortems on four of the birds (five were blackbirds, introduced species which DOC has no mandate to protect) and found 1080 in none of them.

But the damage had been done. This is how such nonsense gains currency in the minds of an unknowing public, and the hunting lobby knows it. When it reports unqualified conjecture – or outright propaganda – this way, the media repeatedly fails its own tests of accuracy, fairness and balance. No wonder we cannot have a rational, informed conversation about it. 

The media, more than any other institution, is responsible for the dismal quality of "debate" around 1080. It is a scientific issue that can only sensibly be discussed within scientific terms of reference, guided by scientific rigour. But like climate change, it’s been politicised for private self-interest. Instead, lobby groups keep rolling Trojan horses up to the doors of the newspapers, ramshackle constructions of tin foil and tape dressed to look like science, but packed tight inside with self-interest and agendas.

Just who are these plotters? Well, like editors, there are others with self-interested motives, who believe they have still more to lose. Many – though not all – recreational hunters detest 1080 because, in its standard formula, it kills deer, as well as rats, mice, stoats and possums. This is insufferable to a lobby group motivated – characterised – in large part by a florid sense of entitlement. They believe that the only way a deer should die is by the spreading, soft-nosed, organ-shredding smackdowns of one of their own bullets.

But lobby leaders are careful ever to publicly distance themselves from 1080 protests. They well know that the public would have little sympathy for their claim to entitlement over a "resource" accessed by a minority. They know too, that they cannot oppose 1080 on animal welfare grounds, given their habit of felling creatures with expanding, high impact rounds. That only leaves them recourse to the standard strategy – profess instead a concern for the environment and keep repeating the same untruths about the toxin, safe from any challenge by reporters, until the public no longer know what to believe. Manufacture doubt.

At the other, far-right, end of the lobby lurks a paramilitary element that has routinely resorted to “eco-terrorism” to try to force conservation and policy backdowns to protect “their resource”. In 2004, memos orbited the fraternity urging hunters to release stoats onto Stewart Island in reprisal for 1080 pest control operations. A leaked circular, purportedly issued by a fringe then known as Hunters’ Heritage, enjoined:

Let Animal Health and Forrest (sic) and Bird have their little victory over the Blue Mountains and while they are poncing about patting themselves on the back we should just quietly go ahead and establish new herds.

This blatant deceit caused more than one suggestion that a few takahi (sic) and kakapo should be popped just to teach the lying pricks a lesson. We couldn’t possibly comment on such a suggestion. But if a few of the boys drop off stoats on Breaksea or Maud Islands who could blame them?

There is nothing yet to suggest or disprove that the infant formula threat has come from some delirious hunting/survivalist fringe, but it’s important to note a certain M.O. here. We all understand that toxins – like fracking, like alien activity, like contrails, like bar codes – can and do attract a certain type of personality – witness the hysteria around fluoridation. The fact that this person has threatened public health when presumably they oppose 1080 on the same grounds is confusing, and hints that it is not the considered action of anybody in good mental health. People on all sides of the argument will be rightly appalled by it; conservationists, hunters, scientists, whoever.

As for John Key, he’s simply managed to squeeze off a cheap shot of his own – whether it lands in the ranks of the greenies or the terrorists, who cares? He landed his hit. The media has done it again...