Frustration as sexist 'chick scientists' comment overshadows attempt to stop whitebait extinction

A fish expert and science communicator is frustrated an important attempt to protect whitebait from extinction has been overshadowed by a debate about sexism.

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Whitebait are going extinct but instead of stopping that, we're still talking about sexism in 2020, science communicator Stella McQueen told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast

Southland Fish and Game councillor Ken Cochrane caused controversy with his comments in relation to proposed whitebait changes, saying in a meeting on Sunday: "When I sat there one day and I thought, 'What I'm listening to is a whole bunch of chick scientists.'

"And if you really looked at the view that they were pitching - [it] was everybody in New Zealand should not shave their armpits, they should wear dreadlocks, and when they go whitebaiting they should do it in jandals only.

"And after they catch one patty for tea, they should sit down, hold hands and sing Kumbaya."

The comment was apparently met with laughter from some sections of the nearly 200 people at the Invercargill meeting, but it angered Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, who called the comments patronising and sexist.

Science communicator, fish expert and author Stella McQueen told TVNZ1's Breakfast it's disappointing, but not surprising, to know people still hold these views.

"It's not 1895 where we're talking about women getting the vote - we've come a long way," she says.

"And here we are talking about sexism when there's this really important view of the whitebait regulations going on."

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The Government released a number of proposals today. Source: 1 NEWS

Regulations haven't been reviewed in 30 years and Ms McQueen says at the time, the rules were considered "fairly below average" for protecting the species.

"They're going extinct. It's a slow decline but they're going extinct. We've finally got this chance to change this and we're back to talking about sexism."

Lindsay Withington, deputy chairman of the Southland Fish and Game Council, has criticised Mr Cochrane's comments as "misogynistic" and "entirely inappropriate and unacceptable", saying they "in no way reflect the views" of the council.

"The Southland Fish and Game Council is calling an emergency meeting to discuss Mr Cochrane’s appalling comments and an appropriate response, which may include seeking his resignation," he told 1 NEWS in a statement.

"I know that the Southland Fish and Game staff have the utmost respect for their DOC counterparts, work collaboratively on a number of issues and over the whitebait season actively assist with compliance activity."

Ms McQueen says she's happy with the Fish and Game response, but found Mr Cochrane's own response lacking.

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As the Department of Conservation tried to outline its plan there were many heated interjections. Source: 1 NEWS

"He apologised for 'any inconvenience or harm' that his comments might have caused," she says.

"I think he might need a small lesson in how to make an actual apology. The women he disparaged deserve a proper public apology."

The Department of Conservation's proposed changes to improve management of whitebait fishing includes banning exports, changing fishing practices and reducing season length.