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Pommie Bastard Book on environmental renegade launched

Pommie Bastard Book on environmental renegade launched

Tauranga author Bryan Winters has written a thought-provoking book about one of New Zealand’s most controversial figures – Stewart Smith – despised by many as an environmental renegade – who spread outlawed fish around the North Island.

Smith was an enthusiast for ‘coarse fishing,’ popular in Britain, where anglers target fish such as tench and rudd.

He spread the fish as an alternative to sport fish to trout, “which don’t breed well in the warmer zones of the nation,” says Mr Winters.

“For that he was castigated and convicted, while entertaining others with his exploits. As recently as 2005, the 94-year old was still breeding illegal fish, outwitting border security and infuriating scientists and other academics.”

While serving a jail term during World War II, Smith was the only person requested by the New Zealand Government to be a trout poacher. He smoked thousands of the fish with their blessing, many gracing the tables of senior civil servants.

Bryan Winters says that his book is far more than the tale of an intriguing individual. He says it also takes a hard, questioning look at the “evolving and often contradictory” work of environmental agencies, both in New Zealand and worldwide.

“Why do we so love trout and put them on an angling pedestal, he asks, “and despise other fish as almost evil, when they are all introduced species?”

Mr Winters says there is no other New Zealand context where environmental agendas are so utterly intertwined with politics, as over our fresh water fish.

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Our English forbears wanted to emulate Scottish laird’s fishing lifestyles, and in came trout. But not everyone felt trout should have a monopoly, “especially Stewart Smith, the most notorious fish spreader in the nation's history.”

The book doesn't pretend to offer answers to all the complex questions surrounding introduced species and which ones are good or bad, says Mr Mr Winters. “Instead it rollicks through his life and the institutions he encountered.

“And what a life it was too. Brought out to New Zealand at fifteen years of age, he shuttled between Tauranga, Mayor Island and the Waikato, meeting remarkable men ranging from communists to publicans. He tells stories of the 1930s that need to be preserved.”

Bryan Winters says his book follows Smith’s fascinating life in stages, drawing in the changing strands of freshwater environmental thinking in New Zealand. In the absence of the deceased Stewart Smith, he personally spoke with both his opponents and allies, leaving the reader to figure out his own conclusions.

His own summary is perhaps a sympathetic opinion of Smith, which others may, or may not share.

He says that Stewart Smith knew an awful lot about his topic, but it was never tapped into by the powers that be. To put this crudely, sometimes it's better to have a man like him inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent, as he most certainly was, pissing back in.”

Bryan Winters was born in Hawkes Bay, and has lived and worked in several continents. He loves the New Zealand outdoors, describing himself as an 'ageing surfer.' He lives at Mount Maunganui with his wife Rosie.

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