Large schools of kahawai are chasing krill in the Waimakariri River mouth and the annual salmon run is about to start, so it's a popular spot for North Canterbury anglers.
Fish and Game councillor Peter Robinson has been fishing at the river mouth since he was a boy and every year he suffers from ‘salmon fever’, a malady that is cured only by catching the prized fish. “Sometimes my wife says to me in early March “we need to talk” if it gets too bad… but it’s a healthy pursuit isn’t’ it, it could be worse!”
The chinook or quinnet salmon came from North America about 100 years ago and were released into the rivers in the South Island. They have acclimatised really well so there’s been a natural occurring run of salmon ever since.
From January through until the peak of the season around Easter the salmon will make their run in from the sea and journey up to the headwaters of the river in the mountains to lay their eggs where they were born four years before.
The Waimakariri River used to suffer badly from factory pollution but as the years have gone by Peter believes it has been gradually cleaned up. Today it is intensive farming practices and irrigation that are impacting on the quality and flow of the river.
“Point source pollution is not such an issue any more, now we’ve got the bigger issue of all the development of dairy land in particular and a lot of irrigation going on, so you’ve got lots of water being removed from the river and then you’ve got the intensive farming with the nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorous going into groundwater and then into the river”.
Water quality issues have not stopped the local anglers from casting out into the tidal waters. Norm Symonds has been a regular at the river mouth since 1943 and it’s rare for him to go home empty handed. Over the years he’s hooked some big ones too.
“One particular day here I caught 96 pounds of fish in half an hour; three salmon… two 28 one 38” he says with a grin.
Peter Robinson runs Fish and Game’s 'Fish in Schools' programme in Canterbury. The aim is to give young people the opportunity to raise salmon from the egg stage to fingerlings in the school environment.
The salmon eggs are supplied from a North Canterbury hatchery and are raised by pupils with the support of volunteers and teachers over several months in specially constructed tanks in the classroom.
Pupils carry out on-going monitoring and related curriculum-oriented tasks. This provides hands-on practice of skills in maths, science and environmental studies in particular. It also gives them the opportunity of applying these skills in a real context in the outdoor environment.
Once the fish have grown to fingerlings they are then released into local waterways.
Currently 26 primary and secondary schools are participating in the programme.