About Archives — 22 May 2011
A dedication to Max Heatherington

Keith Ingram talks about the huge contribution to recreational fishing by Max Hetherington:

Unfortunately Max Hetherington passed away the day after our 2006 Hamilton conference and I for one have not yet forgiven him for that.  For those who may not already know, Max passed away peacefully at his home on July 18th 2006 aged 60.  Max was my friend and a friend to many.  He was also an excellent recreational fishing representative and a passionate advocate of sensible environment and conservation initiatives.

Max had been secretary-manager of the NZ Recreational Fishing Council for some 17 years and his expertise and capacity for work had lulled this organisation into a false sense of security.  He left big boots to fill; something we have yet to fully achieve.  This past year has been one of constant challenges made all that more daunting without Max’s guiding hand and wise counsel.

My reasons for not yet forgiving him for leaving us so suddenly and unexpectedly are twofold.  Firstly, Max passed away before we could change the unthinking attitude of about one million recreational fishers who blindly believe that the recreational fishing right they claim as a birth-right just happens to be.  Well it doesn’t!  It has been folks like Max who have secured this right for them and for us and who have established a foundation from which we can move forward to consolidate our recreational fishing rights.

The second reason I find it hard to forgive Max for leaving so suddenly is that he was a close personal friend and as such I have difficulty in accepting his loss for fear that we may have all contributed to an untimely end. Max carried a significant burden on behalf of the Council members and was never one to shirk what he perceived to be either duty or responsibility.  Since his passing I and the other Council members have come to understand just how great that burden has been in terms of the correspondence, accounting, representation, advocacy and submissions that Max had taken responsibility for under the guidance of the Executive Committee.

I want to reflect on Max’s contribution to the recreational fishing and dive communities of New Zealand because his time with the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council traversed both the formative and productive years of our organisation.  And they have been productive years.

I first met Max over 20 years ago when he was the keeper of the cash for the Reserve Bank. He looked after and accounted for what was in the vaults; which he described as being “heaps of money”.   It was a career that demanded honesty and integrity.  Those were qualities that Max carried through all his dealings on behalf of the NZ Underwater Association and the NZ Recreational Fishing Council.

When I first met Max he was the bubble-blowing delegate for New Zealand Underwater Association on the then re-formed New Zealand Recreational Fishing.

Max was the NZUA environmental officer and fought many battles to protect our coastal waters from pollution and abuse.  He was an underwater fisherman, a spearo, and later he would become an avid angler.  So concerned was Max for his marine environment that he was instrumental in establishing Aqua Trust and remained one of its most loyal trustees until his untimely passing.

Max was the applicant for the Long Island marine reserve in the Marlborough Sounds and working for the NZUA and NZRFC he supported and promoted several others.  Ultimately Max was to become disillusioned with the selfish attitudes of a new generation of greenies; “the greedies” as he called them.  On behalf of the recreational fishing and diving communities he consistently fought against the deceit and misrepresentation that have been used to promote marine reserves which had no justification other than being politically fashionable.

Max was made a life member of the NZUA in 1987 for his services both to the diving fraternity and to the marine environment, an honour that was accorded to him by the by the NZRFC not so many years later.

Max and I were thrown together on a project that the NZUA and the NZ Marine Transport Association regarded as being of critical importance – trying to stop the Ports of Auckland dumping toxic dredgings near the Noises group of Islands in the Hauraki Gulf.

The proposed dumping grounds were the very place where the Kingfish Go Wild project released over a thousand kingfish.  Back when the dumping was proposed many fishing clubs and the NZ Recreational Fishing Council were nervous about the challenge that Max and I put up to the Ports of Auckland.  We were told by many that we didn’t have a chance and many fishing groups stood back from our endeavours for fear of costs being awarded against us when – as they assumed – we lost the challenge.

Max and I were described as two little Davids – not that either of us were that small even back in those days – taking on the corporate Goliath.  In order to fund that challenge two small family homes were on the line; if our wives had fully understood the risk at the time I am not sure if we could have continued our quest.

But where was the environment and conservation lobby of the day? Max was especially disappointed and disillusioned with the deafening silence coming from the greenies.

When we arrived at the hearing the Port Company had every expert in town lined up against us.  We relied on Max’s skills, our extensive local knowledge and anecdotal evidence from our supporters.  We battled on for ten days but in the end our challenge failed.  The judge acknowledged we had a strong case but not one backed by any science.  He said there was a stronger case to suck it and see and he gave approval with the proviso that if the mound moved, no more dumping of dredge material would ever occur within the Hauraki Gulf.

When the Port Company went for costs the good judge agreed with us and ordered that the costs rest where they lay.  Our homes were safe.

We stated that the dredging mound would disperse from the site and it did just that.  As of today, including Pine Harbour channel maintenance there has been no more approved dumping of dredged spoil in the Hauraki Gulf. While we lost the first battle, we won the war.

That was an important challenge for the recreational fishing and dive community – it demonstrated that the man in the street could act in a positive and productive way to protect what was important to both lifestyle and quality of life.

Max Hetherington was instrumental in giving me and other volunteers courage and confidence in regard to protecting the things that we thought important.  The track record of the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council since those days has been a good one, given the constraints placed on us in terms of money and resources.  Many personal sacrifices have been made along the way to ensure that the recreational fishing opportunities enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders, and more particularly by our affiliated members, are better respected and acknowledged.

Drawn from President’s report to AGM July 20-21st 2007

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