Trout research shows value of understanding diverse perspectives on environmental issues

17 February 2022

New Cawthron Institute research on introduced trout has revealed the value of understanding diverse perspectives when seeking solutions to environmental challenges.

The social science study, commissioned by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, was recently published in Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences.

Lead-author Marc Tadaki explains that the study aimed to explore the experiences that shaped interviewees’ perspectives on trout.

With that goal in mind, Marc and his fellow researchers, including Cawthron Institute’s Robin Holmes and Kiely McFarlane, and independent consultant Dr Jane Kitson, set about interviewing people with key roles and unique knowledge in freshwater fish management.

Interviewees included Māori knowledge holders, DOC and Fish & Game staff, and native fish and salmonid scientists. The interview topics ranged from personal experiences with trout to policy settings for fish management.

“Trout have always been controversial because people have such different experiences with them and perspectives on how they should be managed,” Tadaki said.

“If we’re going to find a path forward, we need to understand those differences, but also where there might be common ground and shared values.”

“This work is being published at a time when Aotearoa is preparing to reform its conservation and environmental legislation, while the question ‘what to do about introduced fish?’ has not yet been explored in any depth. We really wanted to do some ground-work that would guide the conversations to come.”

The responses from interviewees included markedly different experiences of and perspectives on trout.

Study co-author and freshwater ecologist Robin Holmes said that for some people trout are a sign of clean water and a healthy eco-system, while for others, they’re a source of cultural trauma.

“Some of our Māori interviewees recounted how trout and salmon were introduced into NZ by acclimatisation societies in the 1800s, often without the consent of iwi/hapū,” Holmes said.

“Historical culls of tuna, which are a taonga and important food source for Māori, were undertaken in attempts to improve trout fisheries, so there’s real pain and loss there for some Māori and for some pākēha who also mourn the loss of treasured native species and changes to unique NZ ecosystems.”

Image: Cawthron Institute
Mark Tadaki

Mark Tadaki

Social Scientist

Robin Holmes

Robin Holmes

Team Leader - River and Lake Ecology

Holmes said they were pleased that the study also identified plenty of common experiences and shared values that will help to guide future conversations about the management of introduced species.

“Despite the existence of deep and legitimate reasons for differing perspectives on trout, our research identified areas of common experience and three principles that could provide a foundation for future trout management: shared decision making within a Treaty framework, management of the negative impacts of trout by fishery managers, and coordination of government agencies to achieve management objectives for multiple species and values.”

“The hopeful message that I take from this is that broadening the objectives of trout management, to beyond just the wishes of trout anglers, will reduce the harm they cause and strengthen the role that trout and their advocates have in protecting and connecting people with freshwater.” 

“For us a next step is conducting a 5-year MBIE Endeavour research programme to understand the social values and ecological drivers of ‘fish futures’ in Aotearoa.”

Study co-author Jane Kitson, agrees, seeing this study as part of a bigger picture.

“We need to develop a holistic and Treaty-based framework to manage all fisheries, both indigenous and introduced. This research can be a starting point for discussion about what that means and how it might be pursued,” Kitson said.

Read Cawthron’s report on the study here.

Read the scientific paper, ‘Understanding divergent perspectives on introduced trout in Aotearoa: A relational values approach’ here. 

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