May 2, 2012 – To which destination do we rush?
As the days continue to extend and the temperature continues to rise in North America, the winter is fast approaching down here in the southern hemisphere. I have had some warm days over the last two years but have not had any kind of summer. Winter here on the Canterbury Plains means more rain, colder nights, and even colder water. For someone who, as a child, was the kid sticking his foot in to test the water temperature at the local pool or lake before getting in, I am not sure how I ended up immersing myself in the cold glacial waters of braided rivers or the chilly, wetsuit violating temperatures of the Pacific Ocean.
Every so often now the snow will start to accumulate on the peaks of the Southern Alps, making them much easier to see from the shore of the island, and reminding me just how small this place actually is. It would be a weird feeling to be able to see from the Atlantic coast of the States to the foothills of the Rockies, but on the South Island, the flatness of the plains lets me see just how close the mountains are to the sea, making it easier to imagine the whole country flowing, churning, and building its way upwards from the ocean floor over millions of years.
I’ve had a bit of a hectic month between work, adding another advisor to my thesis team, and all that comes with living on the other side of the world, but it will all pay off.
Now, as I turn on the heat pump (not only do they use wall mounted heaters down here but very few houses have insulation or double pane glass) and put on my winter coat, the trout fishing season is over! All of the best tributaries and smaller streams close for the winter to help protect the populations of fish, so now I can only make a run at the large braided rivers closer to the coast, which are a real challenge to fish. Although more similar to the river-reading fishing back home, it is still new to me.
Last year, I was able to find a river and cast about a thousand times until someone told me that they don’t even take their rod out until they see a fish. All well and good except that it was winter and those types of streams, the ones you all see in the magazines, were closed. I even hired a guide to take me out on St. Patrick’s day in 2011, much to the dismay of my friends, but got a call at 5 in the morning from the guide who… well, he couldn’t make it. This year, I spent way too much time walking rivers without seeing fish or casting, and even more time paddling down rivers seeing fish from my kayak and debating whether or not to flip over and try to grab them. Two trout here, one rising there, a salmon jumping up rapids… all the things I look for with my rod I would only see from my boat! Even on the times I went back to the exact spot, pulled out a sandwhich and waited for the fish, I still saw nothing. After finally finding a nearby stream where I could sight fish for brown trout stacked up like steelhead, I was thwarted by poor light, high winds, and most of all, not enough time on the river. Real life doesn’t allow me to always choose my days outside, so sometimes I will take what I can get. I distinctly recall one afternoon, sun lowering and hiding the fish under the sheen of the water and the constant rippling from the wind above, that I could not cast at all. The wind was just too fierce as a cold front pushed towards me from the mountains. So, I figured out a way to roll cast my rod upwards into the wind and would let it carry my line out to the fish. Of course, once I had mastered this technique it was too dark to see anything and although I’ve done my fair share of night fishing, I called it a day. That is pretty much how my fishing has been.
But, beyond my dissapointing and embarassing fly fishing has been plenty of success. My paddling is improving, and I have been able to get out for a couple dives as well. The visibilty has still complicated my attempts to learn to spearfish, but glimpsing seals and fish around mussell crusted rocks is still well worth the day out. One odd bonus to getting familiar with the coast here is that anglers do not need a license to fish salt water. Now that the inland waters are closing, my next target will be the few bays and rocky points near Banks Peninsula and the cobbled beaches just to the east of me that are excellent surf fishing spots. As long as there is water there is something for me to do, even if it is colder than the evening beer at the pub.
All the adventures are great, but I am down here to complete my studies and am currently doing an in-depth literature review of how to manage common-pool resources (CPRs). My focus surrounds nearby Lake Ellesmere, also know by the Maori name Te Waihora, which is under three major and several other minor governance plans and agreements and causes interests to clash between all kinds of stakeholders. Sound familiar to the Space Coasters? From local government to national plans and even co-governance with the Maori tribe, there is so much policy surrounding the lake that the amount of time taken setting it up could probably have been used to shovel the lake bed and clean it out! This lake is of an interest to me because it is so unique. Initially an estuary/lagoon system that was blocked off from the sea by the migrating stones and cobbles along the shore, it was once a bountiful flounder and eel fishery. But, as with many lakes near agriculture, it has become a nutrient sink and is rated as hypereutrophic, meaning the nutrient content is much too high to be as healthy as it once was. My focus for my thesis revolves around the implementation of these policy agreements and co-governance plans as they adapt to an integrated catchment management model, what we in the States would refer to as watershed management. From man-made lake openings and drainage to duck hunting blinds and swan culls, this lake is full of issues to manage.
I will get a full entry out on all of this, but I am fascinated by how we choose to manage our resources. It is, after all, why I came down here to study. I want to understand the hows and whys of resource management so that when the time comes for me to make an impact on a place I highly value, I can do it the right way. How can such a unique ecosystem become one of the area’s most polluted lakes? Where is the tipping point in policy and public opinion to make a change? Should it be market oriented? Command and control? Who monitors the resource? Are we all doomed to the Tragedy of the Commons? Do we even care? It is all part of the project for me and I would love to hear any thoughts about successful management schemes throughout the world, as I will be adding my knowledge to the fray down here in hopes of improving the future of the lake.
The man who wrote The Tragedy of the Commons, Garrett Hardin, said that, “Ruin is the destination to which all men rush.” As negative as it sounds, it is not easy to turn around beliefs and paradigms and management plans that have been in effect for years. The tragedy of the commons involves all of us and I hope that looking into all these strategies to manage our resources will give us a better way forward.
Let’s all try and rush down a different path than the one Hardin deemed so inate in humanity, even if it means walking a lot of rivers with no fish and diving in the oceans when we can’t see. The more times I go out to fish or submerge myself in salt, I learn a bit more about my surroundings. Lake Ellesmere, like any large resource, just takes more time and more effort to understand. Once we get there, we can try to comprehend the most confusing aspect to all of this; us. It is back to the books for me, at least they won’t swim away.
Whatever it is you’re after, keeping learning.