1974 – Formation of the NZ Alliance of Freshwater Anglers

As recounted by Tony Orman (Life Member, NZFFA), the decision to launch (the organisation now known as the) New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers Inc. was held on the 6th of July, 1974.

Although it was a grey, drizzly day at Turangi at the southern end of Lake Taupo, this was to be an auspicious day in the history of New Zealand’s trout fishing lobby. Thirteen regional angling groups/clubs gathered for the express purpose of forming a national alliance.

The meeting was attended by two dozen representatives of New Zealand’s trout fishing clubs. Among them were esteemed author OS (Budge) Hintz of Taupo, John Clemance (Hamilton), Joe Connolly of Napier, Joe Townsend  (Hastings), Dave McNeur (Manawatu), John Innes (Manawatu), Dick James (Hamilton), George Mackay (Auckland).

Jim Connolly of the Federation of Hawkes Bay Angling Clubs chaired the meeting. Budge Hintz lamented government control of Rotorua and Taupo districts and asked how the democratic nature of Acclimatisation Societies (predecessor to our current Fish and Game Councils) could be introduced into the government district.

Joe Townsend stated that anglers were fragmented in giving their views to politicians and expressed little confidence in most departments’ thinking. He made a significant point saying, “Anglers are not amateurs. In our ranks we have many professional men such as solicitors, engineers, doctors, planners and even scientists – professionals to complement the practical viewpoints of anglers.”

On a show of hands, delegates unanimously agreed to form the Alliance of Freshwater Anglers. “The aims,” say the minutes of the meeting, “were then decided:-

  • To protect and further the sport of angling
  • To oppose any direct or indirect commercial exploitation of sports fish or fisheries
  • To oppose the charging of rights for access or sport to the outdoor sporting public
  • To encourage a full democratic voice for anglers in the administration of their sport
  • To promote, liaison and unification between angling clubs
  • To, by way of publicity, promote these ideals.”

A steering committee of 10 was then set up, among them being John B Henderson (Wellington), Dave McNeur (Manawatu) and Tony Orman, Joe Townsend and Jim Connolly (Hawkes Bay).

Discussion on general business followed with dissatisfaction expressed at “government interference in acclimatisation societies.” At the time the Labour Government, through Minister of Internal Affairs Henry May, were endeavouring to set up a government-dominated administration of acclimatisation societies. Proposed voting on the executive was to be six government representatives to four licence holder representatives. The National Executive of Acclimatisation Societies had bowed to government pressure. However the newly formed NZ Freshwater Alliance had not.

Joe Townsend said the average sportsman had been “conned by government bully tactics and a weak acclimatisation society national executive.” John Clemance stated that government administration of the Taupo fishery had resulted in licence holders being uninformed and pushed further into the background by departmental heads. The meeting concluded with arranging a further meeting to “embrace South Island representation.”

On August 24, 1974, a second meeting was held in Wellington. Mr Jim Connolly again chaired the meeting. Subscriptions were set at $10 per club and $2 for individual membership.

The election of officers saw Jim Connolly (Hawkes Bay) appointed as Chair, Barry Dunkley (Hutt Valley) as Secretary, and Tony Orman (Hawkes Bay) as Administration Officer. Later that year on 23 November, a meeting was held in Pahiatua.

Among matters discussed were shingle extraction from rivers, and the government’s ‘national executive’ proposal. The Federation of Hawkes Bay Angling Clubs expressed strong opposition to a government take-over. The matter was put on the agenda for the next meeting.

Tackling Angler Access and Other Challenges

On 22 February 1975, the NZ Alliance of Freshwater Anglers met in Wellington. The Marlborough Fishing Club gave a South Island presence. Access to rivers was an issue and the government had, by clumsy proposed changes to the Counties Amendment Act, angered land owners. It was decided letters were to be written to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and various cabinet ministers calling for a meeting between farming representatives and the Alliance “to heal the breach caused by government’s mishandling.” Minutes state “the Alliance’s policy for foot access to rivers was to obtain only reasonable foot access along rivers and streams.”

On the subject of the government’s take-over bid of acclimatisation societies, the meeting resolved unanimously that “the Alliance is adamantly opposed to government control of trout fishing and game bird shooting and deplores the lack of detailed information on the proposed changes. The Alliance fully supports the Acclimatisation Society movement in their endeavours to retain the right to control their sport’s administration.”

Other matters discussed included the illegal introduction of rudd and other exotic fish into natural waters. A letter was sent to the Minister of Agriculture.

On 30 August 1975, the first annual general meeting was held at the Clarendon Hotel,

Christchurch during which it was decided to tell the government to keep its nose out of trout anglers’ business!  This anger was related to attempts by the Rowling Labour government to impose a government dominated structure on acclimatisation societies.

Clubs present included Hamilton, Hawkes Bay clubs, Federation of Hawkes Bay Angling Clubs, Canterbury Anglers Club and Blenheim Sportsmen’s Rod and Gun Club. Among the individuals present were Canterbury personalities such as well known author George Ferris, Joe Chidgey, Vic Mehertens, Dick Henshaw and Al Creedon of ‘Creedon’s Creeper’ trout fly fame. Apologies came from the Gore, Otautau, Nelson, Southland trout fishing clubs. The Alliance was now truly national.

Elections resulted in the appointment of President Jim Connolly (Napier), Secretary Ted Bason (Blenheim), Associate members’ secretary Barry Dunkley (Wellington), Administration officer/treasurer Tony Orman (Marlborough) and a committee of Vic Mehertens, (Canterbury), George Ferris (Canterbury), John Henderson (Wellington), Dick James (Hamilton), Vern Williams (Southland) and George Byford (Hawkes Bay).

A general meeting followed. Matters decided included:

  • A letter to be sent to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries calling for rudd to be declared a noxious fish
  • A strong letter was sent to the Prime Minister (Bill Rowling) calling for government to keep its nose out of acclimatisation societies. Letters went to the Leader of the Opposition (Rob Muldoon) and to various MPs.
  • The proposed commercial exploitation of salmon was opposed unless departments could give assurances about the future of the recreational fishery.
  • Trout farming: George Ferris explained trout farming moves by a North Canterbury would-be trout farmer, Neil Isaacs. Letters were sent to political leaders and the North Canterbury Acclimatisation Society protesting.
  • Exotic forest development in the North Island.

On exotic forest plantings, the meeting decided to write to the Minister of Forests calling for 10 chain (200 metres) buffer strips along all rivers and streams to minimise disturbance, control runoff and provide public access as well as controls on tree felling, sawdust, silt runoff etc.,

In the annual balance sheet 15 regional clubs were listed as members ranging from the Gore Anglers’ Club in Southland to the Marlborough Angling Club, TALTAC at Turangi and the Auckland Freshwater Anglers Club.

On April 24, 1976 the NZ Alliance of Freshwater Anglers met at the TALTAC rooms at Turangi. A good attendance of some 30 delegates discussed matters with the government ‘take-over’ of acclimatisation societies to the fore. The government proposals were described as “a debacle”, “a confusion” and characterised by a lack of communication. A motion to disband the national executive of acclimatisation societies and reform it with regional representatives from each acclimatisation society (7 from each island, 14 in total) was carried unanimously with letters to go to party political leaders including the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile the Gore Angling Club asked for assistance in combating irrigation and pulp mill threats to rivers. Rudd were reported to be spreading and had entered the Waikato hydro lakes. The Alliance resolved to write to the Nature Conservation Council and the Minister of Agriculture calling for action in eradicating the fish and enacting “urgent noxious fish legislation.”

Representations to government for safeguards (e.g. 200 metre buffer zones along streams) against large scale forestry development had received a weak response from the Minister of Forests. The meeting resolved to take the matter to prime minister level and the Nature Conservation Council.

Other matters were:-

  • Concern at grass carp was expressed by Rotorua Anglers’ Association.
  • A proposal for a NZ Alliance of Outdoor Sportsmen was supported in principle.
  • Manawatu expressed concern at unrestricted jet boats on rivers and a letter went to the Minister of Transport.
  • Metal extraction from rivers was referred to the Nature Conservation Council and the Minister of Works.

In March 1977 the Alliance met in Christchurch. Various matters were discussed. The government’s ‘national executive’ scheme was being closely watched as was the Isaacs trout farm complex.

Decisions included:-

  • Fish out ponds at Rotorua were seen as a charge for the right to fish and a letter went to government.
  • Commercial salmon farming was ‘the thin edge of the wedge” and a letter went to the Minister of Fisheries expressing concern and opposition.
  • Overseas anglers bringing in unsterilised fishing gear was raised. A letter went to the Minister of Customs calling for fishing gear of overseas anglers to be fumigated.
  • Concern was expressed that a 15 percent government research levy on licences was a “misuse of licence money” and a full ‘cost benefit analysis’ was to be sought.
  • Spear gun poaching on trout resulted in a call for spear guns to be registered.

George Ferris screened colour slides on the use of the Vibert box for restocking trout streams.

In August, 1977 the annual general meeting was held in Turangi with a good attendance of 31 and 14 clubs represented. George MacKay stepped down as chairman and Manawatu’s Dave McNeur was elected as president. An amendment to the name (proposal to incorporate Sport Fishing) was discussed but deferred to the next meeting. 

At this AGM, charging for access to fishing at the Tauranga-!Taupo River at Taupo was opposed. Government was urged to amend law to make it clear that it was illegal to charge access to fishing.

Other matters were:

  • The government was sternly rebuked with failing to stop the illegal liberations of rudd and failing to set up bio-security surveillance on fishing gear of overseas anglers.
  • Equally strong was fish and game administration and “the failure of government to rationalise government departments,” dealing in fish and game. 
  • New law in the Wild Animal Control Bill with draconian trespass provisions was described as a move to “private ownership of fish and game.”

A half yearly meeting attended by 12 clubs, was held in Blenheim on 25 March 1978. A book “Trout and Salmon Sport” anthology was being edited by Tony Orman with “all royalties to go to the Alliance.”

Prominent issues were the lack of noxious fish law, charging for fishing access, tourist’s fishing tackle were again taken up with action by way of letters taken. 

Government proposals for fish and game (known as the Hunn Report) and the intention to put fish and game work under the Lands Department were opposed. The preference was for the Wildlife Service of Internal Affairs. Even so, it was felt that Acclimatisation Societies should be politically independent.

In September 1978, the AGM was held at Napier, with 14 clubs present. Election of officers saw Bob Fenton (MP), Budge Hintz and George Ferris elected as patrons. Dave McNeur was returned as president with Ted Bason and Tony Orman both of Marlborough, elected secretary and administration officer respectively.

On the committee of six were elected George Byford (Hawkes Bay), John Giacon (Auckland), John Henderson (Wellington), Norman Marsh (Southland), Noel Voyce (Canterbury) and Dr Charlie Boyden of Otago.

Jim Connolly and Joe Townsend both of Hawkes Bay, were elected life members.

Again matters such as noxious fish, wild rivers law and bio-security on fishing tackle, again featured with letters going to government- yet again. One delegate was critical of acclimatisation societies’ passive style and deplored the “non-political awareness.” A pamphlet on angler opposition to trout farming and a summary of scientific supporting evidence, was to be produced.

On 24 February a general meeting was held at Invercargill. 

The meeting observed a minute of silence as a mark of deep respect for executive member Charlie Boyden who drowned while trout fishing.

Trout farming again surfaced following a “ridiculous reply” from a Commission for the Environment officer. The director of the commission was written to, “correcting the officer’s delusions over trout farming.” MAF apathy over noxious fish was deplored as were salmon farming and MAF allowing a salmon farm at Takaka (Clive Barker) and a departmental lack of action over a Wild Rivers Bill.

A call was made to government to “clearly outlaw” access charges to fishing, hunting or shooting.

Forestry, Carp and the Eighties

At the February 1980 AGM, the adverse effects of large scale commercial exotic forestry were discussed and the matter of ‘pine forest monoculture’ was referred to several departments as well as the Nature Conservation Council.

Eleven clubs were represented and five apologised for absence, due to travelling costs. Election of officers saw Budge Hintz and Keith Draper elected as patrons and John Giacon as president with Ted Bason and Tony Orman as secretary and administration officer respectively.

Correspondence from a MAF native fish officer R McDowall was discussed. It concerned strong criticism of the Alliance’s opposition to trout farming. “In view of the letter and its tenor, there appears little constructive purpose in pursuing the matter.”

Noxious fish such as rudd, and lack of government action continued to perplex delegates. A spate of proposals for small hydroelectricity schemes was also cause for concern.

Grass carp was a prominent subject at the 1981 AGM held at Turangi when

sixteen club were represented. President Mr Giacon raised the matter of grass carp which he stated were already present in Pukekoe drains. A submission from the Manawatu club was read, adopted and forwarded to the Ministry of Fisheries and Department of Internal Affairs.

Support of the Acclimatisation Societies’ opposition to an aluminium smelter at Bluff and demands on rivers for power was adopted.

Letters over salmon farming went to political parties and government. During debate Ted Bason said “assurances that sports fishery interests would be paramount have not been respected by the minister or his ministry.”

John Giacon raised the idea of  links with the US-based Trout Unlimited organisation and the Federation of Freshwater Anglers [a name change had occurred at this point with Alliance replaced by Federation].

John Giacon also promoted a national recreational fishing body involving saltwater, underwater and troutfishers. John Henderson presented a report on the very active Federation of Rifle Rod and Gun Sportsmen.

John Giacon was returned as president with Tony Orman appointed as administration officer and Ted Bason as secretary.

The Federation “totally” opposed the introduction of grass carp at the 1982 AGM  held in Blenheim with 23 individuals present and 15 clubs represented. Ted Bason of Blenheim succeeded John Giacon as president, with secretary being Ian Byrne of Blenheim. Treasurer was Noel Osborne of Auckland. Tony Orman became research director.

John Giacon reported liaison with Trout Unlimited was going well while the proposed recreational fishing council concept was making “gratfying progress.”

In 1983 the AGM was held in Palmerston North. Manawatu’s Dave McNeur succeeded Ted Bason as president.

There was a good attendance at the 16th AGM of the NZFFA held in December 1988. This was a very important milestone in the Federation’s history.

At the meeting there was a strong push by then president John Giacon of Auckland, to wind up the Federation and absorb it into a proposed New Zealand branch of the USA Trout Unlimited. The late John Giacon was also Trout Unlimited’s New Zealand officer. 

The minutes record that “The chairman (John Giacon) raised the question of what is the future of the Federation, given that 1987/88 had been the worst in the Federation’s history.” After spirited discussion, the meeting resolved that the Federation should continue in its own right and Giacon’s proposal was defeated.

As a result, Theo Simeonidis (Wellington) stood for president and in an election with the incumbent John Giacon, was elected. Secretary was Clark Reid.

The Federation consolidated after the threat to its continuance. The 19th AGM in Wellington was positive with Strato Cotsilinis (currently the Federation’s treasurer as at 2020/21) elected as president.

Public Access NZ (PANZ) was formed and NZFFA resolved to give the new organisation “maximum support”. A non-resident licence for overseas anglers featured in business. It was noted that at the time Fish and Game NZ considered a non-resident licence should be three times the cost of the NZ resident licence.

At the 1991 18th AGM, Russell McKendry of the Hutt Valley replaced Theo Simeonidis who was retiring. Efforts were still being made by John Giacon for NZFFA and TU to have close membership links but members were apprehensive of “potential confusion” and resolved to maintain “NZFFA’s autonomy”.

Salmon by-catch off Canterbury river mouths by commercial trawlers featured in a presentation by Ross Lightfoot of NZ Salmon Anglers. Tradable water rights was discussed as were River access and effective lobbying of politicians.

The following decade was a continuance of the same angler-centric battles and challenges. As we jump into the first decade of the new millennium, Didymo rears its ugly head, water as a resource becomes a major agenda item, and protecting angler’s rights to river access continued to be challenging.

It is noted that at the May 2008 Federation AGM need in Palmerston North, the top four concerns for

  • Didymo
  • Dams for power generation on public rivers
  • Commercialisation/privatisation moves that have or could lead to charging for access
  • The resource of water

Extracts from the 2008 Annual Report by President Ian Rodger of Auckland were:-

Didymo – “Anglers and particularly, felt soled wading boots, have been blamed for Didymo’s spread. We do not dispute this likelihood but it is disappointing to see other water users, such as kayakers,  4WD vehicles, jet boats, kayakers, indeed even trampers with wet socks, being ignored as potential transmitters.”

Access – “Public ownership of fish and game is under threat from commercialisation moves such as pheasant shooting preserves and a few unscrupulous fishing guides buying sole exclusive access rights from unwitting land owners. Both contravened laws that clearly state no charging for fishing or shooting rights. The public ownership philosophy that sports should be freely available to everyone regardless of income or status, was a legacy left by our European forefathers.”

Dams – “Damming free flowing rivers is not environmentally acceptable and it seems hypocritical by government that boasts “clean, green, pure” that under its Kyoto PC, it can laud hydro power.”

Under the energy reforms of the last National government and untouched by the present government, anglers were forced to wage continuous war against the power companies who want to dam any free flowing river. The Federation recognised the need for power generation and had advocated several options for investigation such as clean burning coal fired power stations, thermal, wind, wood waste use, wave and tidal, solar, greater incentives by government for householders and business to install solar and even investigation of nuclear. “We just want open debate and consideration of all options instead of PC dogma.”

Water – whilst water was in the public domain, owned by the people of New Zealand but there were moves to support tradable water-rights and it was widely considered that the sale of a water-right was a thin end of the wedge, a precedent which could well lead to the sale of water.

The Federation continued its vigilant approach and featured presidents such as Tony Orman (then Wellington), Jim Hale (Manawatu), Alan McMillan (Dunedin), Ian Rodger (Auckland) and David Haynes (Nelson). Graham Carter (Waikato) was elected president at the 2016 AGM, stepping down after his two year tenure in 2018 with the appointment of Peter Trolove who remains the current NZFFA president.

What is fascinating in looking back at these early records is the need for today’s New Zealand freshwater anglers to remain vigilant. Almost fifty years on from the Federation’s formation, the challenges facing our fisheries remain large unchanged. 

Adding to this list, the more recent devastation of entire lowland pasture catchments due to pollution and contamination keeps the current Executive busy.

The July 2020 AGM was held in Christchurch. The current Executive comprises Peter Trolove as President supported by an experienced team from across New Zealand’s angling regions.