Has Fish & Game’s National Council Lost the Plot?

An opinion piece. By Piscator 44.

In recent weeks licence holders and many councillors have been left bemused, confused, astounded, and often angered by the incredulous actions of their National Council.

Regulations Booklets

First there was the issue of the Regulations Booklet. The National Council proposed to cease publishing the annual booklets of fishing and hunting regulations. They are the bibles, prayer books and almanacs for so many anglers and shooters; especially those new to the sport and those who cross the regional boundary occasionally to fish or shoot in a neighbouring region. Instead the Council proposed to require licence holders to download an App that had all the details. A regional councillor of my acquaintance immediately received three emails or phone calls from older licence holders asking “What is an App?” Outrage and pressure saw that idea shelved but many of us were left shaking our heads in disbelief at the idea. There are numerous members of fishing clubs that this writer is aware of who still carry, and use, a granny phone. The biggest blunder inherent in the idea is belief that anglers and shooters carry their phones whilst out at, or in, the waterways that house their target species. Most people say “Why risk it, a phone costs too much?”

Many of us do most of our angling in locations well out of cell phone range. Life stresses have taught us to leave our phones at home; or at least in the car. How could twelve people whose job it is to act in the best interests of licence holders even come to consider such a proposition?

Trout Farming

Their next disaster has been to go soft on trout farming. One suspects that the tentacles of the neo-liberal “profits before people” agenda has found a new home in the National Council of Fish and Game. Over one hundred years of Acclimatisation Societies and Fish & Game actions have seen opposition to trout farming as being a fundamental cornerstone of the brotherhood, and sisterhood, of anglers.

The Council has recently passed the following. They:

  1. Agree to reassess Fish and Games’ opposition to trout farming based on further independent research establishing the risk profile of different types of trout farming systems.
  2. Agree to consult with regional Fish and Game councils on the outcome of this paper.

Come on! Any change in this long established policy needs consultation before the research is undertaken. There is plenty of knowledge in both regional councils and their staff that will show that this is a devious move with dubious consequences. The scientific literature worldwide is overwhelming in its criticisms of trout farms and the harm they inflict on wild fisheries. The word “independent:” is interesting; Independent of what? I suspect it is independent of science; in particular salmonid science, and dependent on economics.

They also voted at the same meeting to “NOT agree to confirm Fish and Games position opposing all forms of trout farming”. It is a bit like saying we are NOT against all forms of poaching. The link between trout farming, sale of trout, and poaching is an established part of the fundamental foundation planks of Fish and Game written and unwritten charter, or MOU, with its licence holders. Terms like “a death wish” come to mind with this council.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Confessions of a Poacher, edited by  James Watson poaching Archives - Wild Salmon CenterPheasant Preserves

Disaster number three has been their suspicious sudden reversal of their position on commercial pheasant preserves. While pheasants are primarily a North Island bird the implications of the decision are nationwide. It was one of the biggest decisions for NZC to make in its history, whether to close Pheasant Preserves or support them by sending the Minister their advice to this effect. Pheasant Preserves have been deemed illegal by numerous authorities. The reasons being, that pheasants are a game bird. Locking them away for only paying customers to shoot is seen as restricting public access to a public resource for financial gain. Sources with both national and regional council experience of this issue report knowledge of preserves that already include other game birds as part of the deal to shoot pheasants, on their property. At least one advertises access to trout in the waterways on their property. Once the public are excluded, unless paying for the opportunity, then this is not just pheasants but trout, ducks, etc , that are being privatised.

The National Council was advised of the concerns that if the preserves stay open then it makes the way open for trout farming. Any capture for profit, such as put and take, of species managed by Fish and Game has, according to the Council’s own historical records, huge implications for disease and biosecurity.

After hearing the case for change from someone with a vested interest and had been invited to the meeting, the Council voted 5/5 on changing the current statutory position of game birds in preserves. The chairman used his casting vote to support the change. Nobody was invited to present the opposing viewpoint. I may be unusual but I have never been on a board where the chair was not expected to support the status quo unless there were very exceptional circumstances.

The perception of conflict of interest casts a real cloud over this issue. Councillors in at least one region are heavily involved commercially in this area of business venture. The recent history of this council is widely perceived as one where “horse trading”, or as one old colleague calls it “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours”, is a regular occurrence with a particular group being labelled by many as a cartel. This issue simply adds to that perception.

Noted author and outdoor recreation advocate Tony Orman wrote in 2004 “The public ownership of fish and game sport is no accident. Such a system was set in place by the early European settlers who sought to escape the feudal structure of the UK where the best sport by reason of income and wealth is the preserve of those who can afford the high fishing-shooting-hunting rights, charges and access fees. New Zealanders have guarded and cherished this unique egalitarian foundation and principle for over a century.”

HIGH QUALITY DRIVEN PHEASANT SHOOTING IN SLOVAKIA. OFFER 2020/2021 Meghan Markle WILL let Prince Harry take part in Boxing Day pheasant shoot  as it's claimed rumours she has banned him are 'completely untrue'

The public nature of fishing and shooting is enshrined in law. Specifically Section 23 of The Wildlife Act and Section 26ZN of the Conservation Law Reform Act.

Section 23 of The Wildlife Act states: that the sales of game, and the sale of shooting rights, are prohibited. Subsection (2) states No person shall sell or let for fee or reward any right to hunt or kill game on any land or water or any adjoining land. Clearly these words mean anywhere in New Zealand. This latest faux pas by the council opens the door for a wide range of privatisation. As our fisheries and wetlands shrink the pressure to privatise will escalate.

How long will it be before Meridian Energy decides to close off public access to the Mackenzie canals and then charge anglers for access to boost their bottom line after losing the Aluminium smelter? Fish and Game’s National Council are giving them a precedent on which to build their case.


Licence holders all over the country are concerned about their inability to get quick information about the activities of the National Council. Like so many groups which should be accountable to their stakeholders the minutes are not easy to access. That a disproportionate amount of their business in conducted in the public excluded section of their meetings is the main worry. In organisations like the Fish and Game council, only staff issues have the right to such secrecy. Anglers and shooters have the right to know the background to decisions; even regional F&G councils do not get access to these minutes. It is time that the national council came to terms with the fact that they were not elected to the role by popular vote, they are just appointees from the regions and their job is to support the viability of our fishing and hunting heritage. The council needs to do a stocktake on its use of public excluded sessions and stop acting as a secret society.

Regional Councils’ Cash Reserves

Reliable Fish and Game sources have advised that disaster number five has been their recent handling of the issue of how much in cash reserves that regions need to have for use in case of cash flow crises. The original concept was simple. In good years a region put away surplus funds and in occasional bad years they dipped into it. The National Council actually have a policy that says that regional councils need to have 30-50% of their income in reserve. That is what was prescribed for levy paying regions. Hunters and anglers should by now be aware that some regions are uneconomic and need to be subsidised by others. The grant receiving regions needed to have 30-50% of their allocated budget kept in reserve. One such region has 300+% in reserve; all paid for by licence holders elsewhere in the country in levy paying regions. The real problem however is that the national council has seen fit to ignore this policy largely it seems to give them more discretionary funding to play power games with.

Some region’s reserves have been depleted; sometimes as a result of underfunding. While underfunding is a subjective term it indicates the presence of an in-group majority and an out-group minority on the council. Sources say that in the last few months they have set and reset the percentage required by each region with figures ranging from 15 to 50% being discussed. It appears that the original policy states that the 30-50% refers to income for the levy payers, but the council has discussed switching this to “allocated budget”. The scrambling Council has sought a number of one size fits all solutions which added to the confusion. Fisheries and game bird management solutions do not work that way. It seems that Micky Mouse could not have done a worse job in managing this issue. One has to ask how important are policies if cowboy councillors ignore them?

USE BY Date?

Sadly it appears as if the National Council of Fish and Game is out of touch, out of its depth and out of control. Anglers and shooters deserve better. Bring on massive changes from the current Ministerial Review! What we have now is an administrative dinosaur in its death throws as it wrestles with the tentacles of an aggressive neo-liberal agenda and blatant self-interest. Whatever happened to managing, maintaining and enhancing the sports of fishing and hunting?

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9 Responses to Has Fish & Game’s National Council Lost the Plot?

  1. Donald Scott says:

    Whilst I agree with some of your views regarding the conduct of the
    National Council I am afraid your views on trout farming are based on antiquated evidence and the mythical concept that trout farming automatically diminishes the quality of the wild fishery. Having been involved in trout farming before I arrived in New Zealand I can tell you that without it there would not be any fly fishing and trout angling in Southern Africa where its importance as a tourist attraction is considerable. After all it is widely practiced in the UK and sustains trout angling in particular in that country. After all what is the difference between trout hatcheries providing fish for the Rotorua lakes or for the table. The fact they are extensively stocked there is trout farming by another name. The myth of disease is another point conveniently overlooked by the anti trout farming lobby. Salmon farms feeding fish and trout feeding on the left overs can also be considered a product of farming. The only difference is that trout are outside the cage whilst salmon are not.
    The reduction of trout catches in the Wellington region is a fact. If this could be improved by fish being more plentiful in stocked ponds it would result in increased angling opportunities for all anglers including the likes of me who are partially disabled. I view the over emphases of the wild fishery is a direct attempt to ensure disabled and aged peoples like myself are denied opportunities to fish and I deeply resent that. May I assume that the Federation of Freshwater Anglers are only interested in able bodied anglets and no one else. Finally the outdated legislation preventing trout farming is currently on the law books and will have to be rescinded for trout farming to be carried out in the first place. Only an act of parliament can change this

    • Julian peters says:

      May I ask if you are New Zealand born ?
      If you were then you “should” understand ,the Value of Trout in New Zealand ,is NOT monetary…..it is far MORE valuable than that to us .
      To compare a hatchery to a Trout farm (in New Zealand ) is disingenuous .
      The end objectives of each being polar opposites.
      Salmonoid farming world wide has introduced negative impacts on wild populations in almost every instance.
      You state that the catch rates are down in the Wellington region……yes???
      If the catch rates are down is it because the trout numbers are down ?environment the Trout live in has deteriorated ? We have less anglers ? The anglers are less skilled ? The trout just don’t want to be caught ??…
      Those questions need to be asked and answered first before this is used as a justification for Trout farming .
      I feel for you in regards to your disability and that it restricts you from doing something you love .
      I have taken quite a number of disabled fishers out Trout fishing over the years , from totally blind , age infirm , amputees to wheelchair bound .
      It is tough for them ! But with the right help and attitude they can still fish.
      Again this is not a justification for trout farming…
      There are places that are accessible.
      As to the legislation being outdated , it was light years ahead of its time and , here in New Zealand is still very relevant..
      It was designed to protect a PUBLIC RESOURCE from private capture and profit so that ALL could enjoy.
      That is something the national fish and game council should remember .

    • andic says:

      Probably because we have the long history of egalitarian laws we enjoy in New Zealand that we have some of the best sport fishing in the world. Unlike places such as the UK, anyone is free and able to fish for their favourite supper.
      I’ve witnessed first hand poor buggers sitting beside heavily polluted canals and rivers with little or no success, or paying huge sums to enter private lands to access the decent fish (or any game for that matter).
      Do we really want to risk all this by modifying laws that have made us the envy of the world?
      PS. I am registered disabled, but manage to enjoy the great outdoors whenever I can.

    • Tony Orman says:

      I remember a top USA fisheries officer (scientist) told me “trout farming is capital intensive, marginally economic and high risk.” Trout farming’s greatest flaw is its uncertain economic value to NZ. Markets are saturated with farmed fish from Norway and Chile. I once coined a phrase “fish farming is no substitute for proper management of the natural sea fishery.”
      When I see (recently) blue cod in Marlborough $59.99 at the super market I know there’s something seriously wrong with fisheries management. Governments and MPI should use their meagre talents to bring fish to the consumer at an affordable price.
      As to risks, fish farming provide prime conditions for disease due to ailing economics and the consequential tendency to crowd more fish into pens. King Salmon in the Marlborough Sounds dumps, at the land fill, tonnes of dead fish from its operations.
      As for heightened poaching from commercialising trout, the precedent is there with paua and crayfish poaching and black markets. It happens!

  2. John the hunter says:

    I don’t see how a pheasant preserve can lock game “away for only paying customers to shoot”. The best wild pheasant shooting in NZ is on the land surrounding Pheasant Preserves. The Preserves release thousands of birds every year. Less than 1/3rd are shot and the rest ‘escape’ into surrounding land and disperse throughout the North Island to be wild hunted. The Preserves should have full support from F&G as they are adding to the wild bird population.

  3. Chow says:

    Your entitled to your opinion that’s fair although very skewed and one sided. I suggest you research more and contact each 12 regions officers to better get a grasp on such matters, eg upland game hunting and the fight to retain the new zealand way of hunting where its available to all with a license not just the privilege few, yes you can argue they populate areas but really do they, last time I seen a real wild bird it doesnt sit on a fence post looking at you reminds me of having a pet calf called meatloaf, this is more propaganda for your own benefits.

  4. jon dewit says:

    re pheasant preserves and possibly trout farming, please go and read the ANIMAL
    PRODUCTS ACT, Its very liberal regarding game preserves and in conflict with the
    wildlife act 1953.

  5. David Haynes says:

    To compare South Africa and the UK with NZ is uninformed at best. SA and UK have virtually no self-sustaining wild trout fisheries due to pollution, population pressures, river modifications, or an environment that is simply not conducive to cold-water salmonids. NZ is largely a wild and self-sustaining fishery of outstanding quality and no-one is creating any more of these anywhere on the planet, quite the reverse if you care to read about it.

    If you want to fish for stew pond raised pig-like fish with mangled fins, who struggle to survive once chucked into a system with no pellets to eat then you know where to go.

  6. jimmy says:

    I totally agree with david haynes about his comments on NZ fishery having worked on 2 british trout farms there is lots of disease and mortality associated with them that is kept quiet .Also having spent 5 years as a ghillie who was also involved in anti poaching night patrols on 3 scottish estates I have seen both sides of the coin . The reason I moved my family to new zealand was for one reason WORLD CLASS TROUT FISHING there are very few places left in this world where the average man can access good trout fishing for a small fee. On one river I ghillied on it was about 7600 dollars a fortnight for salmon fishing and yes it was for the priviliged few who could afford it.
    Legitimizing trout farming would unleash a poaching epidemic not seen in NZ anyone who thinks otherwise is very naive .Poachers used to drive from the middle of england up to where our estate was in scotland to go poaching, the river was only about 25 miles long but we had 4 people to patrol this at night we had some of the first night vision optics and a ex royal marine comander running the show. kiwis have never seen poaching like this. The rivers in uk have massive amount of protection who would be able to police our rivers if a market was available to sell trout it would be wholesale slaughter with nets left in our rivers and lakes its bad enough now. Our rivers and lakes should be afforded full protection as a world class fishery .

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