Sports trout fishery worth “over a billion dollars” annually threatened by trout farming proposal


New Zealand’s recreational trout fishery conservatively earns at least one billion dollars annually for the national economy and is now again threatened by a trout farming proposal, says the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers (NZFFA).

Rex Gibson, ecologist and secretary of the trout advocacy group, says that, in terms of international fly fishing visitors and New Zealanders fishing regionally throughout the country, the sport is a huge economic generator.

“Recreational freshwater sports fishing – directly and indirectly supports thousands of jobs – many in rural regions where unemployment is high,” he says.

Gibson says NZFFA has made a comment on the fishery’s value in response to a parliamentary select committee that has recommended trout farming be permitted following a petition from a former “ocean ranch” salmon farmer whose Golden Bay venture failed decades ago.

No recent firm study to reassess the value has  been undertaken, but Gibson says past estimates by the Department of Conservation and Cawthron Institute, extrapolated and updated to today, point to a figure worth well over $1 billion a year.

Trout Farming a very poor second

“The sports fishery’s dollar and amenity value leave a high risk, economically marginal trout farm industry well in the rear,” he says. 

Twenty-two years ago, the issue of DoC’s Target Taupo in November 1998, stated the “New Zealand economy reaped around $750 million annually from activity associated with the freshwater fisheries”.

Taking into account increased earnings/inflation/business expansion etc over the past two decades that ‘around $750 million annually’ figure will have easily doubled by now to $1.5 billion.

“So our stating recreational trout fishing is ‘conservatively estimated to be worth of $1 billion annually to the NZ economy’ is totally justifiable and, if anything, an under-estimate,” says Gibson.

Similarly supporting the “billion dollar” figure was the Cawthron Institute’s assessment that the value of trout angling in 1991 – over 30 years ago – was up to a quarter of a billion dollars. 

Affluent Anglers

Gibson says there had been big increases in inflation and also enormous “trout industry” growth over the past three decades. 

International tourists are invariably “extra high value yielding” tourists as they are mostly affluent and often stay at luxury lodges, using helicopters and guides to access wilderness “trophy trout” rivers.

Recreational freshwater fisheries support jobs directly and indirectly in:

  • Fishing lodges, motels, hotels, motor camps.
  • Fishing guides.
  • Fisheries officers in DoC and Fish & Game.
  • Rental vehicles and rented RVs.
  • Sports shops and other retailers selling fishing equipment. 
  • New Zealand manufacturing industries producing fishing equipment eg: Kilwell, Composite Developments, K-labs etc and numerous fly tyers.
  • Airlines and other transport related industries eg: helicopter companies, the Cook Strait ferries, taxis, Uber etc.
  • Cafes and restaurants in popular trout fishing regions like Lake Taupo and Queenstown. 
  • Groceries, supermarkets and other food suppliers to visiting overseas and domestic anglers.There are also substantial beneficial intangible spin-offs from the sports fishery says Gibson.

Trout fishing provides economic, cultural and health benefits, while trout themselves, which require clean, well-oxygenated water, also help protect the environment through Fish and Game’s advocacy work and by acting as ‘the canaries in the coal mines’ in terms of warning of declining river water quality,” says Gibson.

Trout Farming Dangers

Having witnessed trout-farm sourced ecological disasters in the USA and Europe, many trout fishing bodies, including Fish and Game NZ, have grave fears that commercial trout farming is likely to cause immeasurable, irreparable harm to the public’s trout fishery because of :

  1. The risk of disease outbreak risk from crowded pens as has happened with Marlborough Sounds salmon farming and, as witnessed overseas, where entire trout populations of river systems had been wiped out for decades. 
  2. Motivating increased poaching, netting and spearing of vulnerable trout and their sale in black markets as has happened with paua, crayfish and deer.
  3. Genetic damage to NZ’s unique wild trout strains from trout farm escapees.
  4. High organic polluted effluent from trout farms.
  5. The need for large quantities of public’s fresh water to maintain trout farms. 

Trout farming returns poor

“And at the end of the day, trout farming lacks economic justification with the product of farmed trout being mediocre in comparison to wild trout; and trout farms requiring intensive venture capital, high risks and offering marginally economic returns. Such projects will inevitably require high taxpayer funded ministerial input to deal with disease, monitoring and environmental problems.”

Gibson says a trout caught – and often released – by an overseas tourist or domestic sports fisher, is effectively worth hundreds of dollars a kilogram to the economy, with all the ancillary tourism and sports-related costs factored in, “but farmed trout may not even sell as much as farmed salmon current at $34 per kilogram.” 

Gibson, an ecologist, said in the NZFFA’s executive ranks were high qualified people in areas such ecology, aquaculture, resource planning and micro-biology to name a few.

© An American fly fisherman – “a trout caught – and often released – by an overseas tourist or domestic sports fisher, is effectively worth hundreds of dollars a kilogram to the economy” – and it’s usually released – and thus recycled – to add again to the NZ economy.






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2 Responses to Sports trout fishery worth “over a billion dollars” annually threatened by trout farming proposal

  1. Lyn lloyd says:

    Originally from the Uk and fly fished from the age of 15, I have seen first hand the demise of wild river fisheries. In fact I have a close friend who owns and runs a very large trout fishing enterprise in Wiltshire. He has seen his trout farms where he bred his own fish to stock his lakes- wipes out totally by disease ie whirling disease. He has not reset up his farm since the Last loss and is very scathing about the whole farming industry in Uk. The last thing we want to see is the user pays private water system they have over there now, with only the very wealthy being able to access what few ‘ wild’ rivers are left in the country- and that ain’t many. Keep farming out of our country, it is not worth the risk or return. We already have poaching problems here in Taupo. If trout farming- which means the sale of trout would have to be legalised, then Taupo, Rotorua lakes etc will be destroyed in just a few short years. Dum arsed greens again. Get these pricks and their foot minister out of government and stop this lunacy

  2. Don Coyote says:

    Trout farming has to be the dumbest idea out. The trout fishery in its uncommercialised present recreational sector, is worth hundreds of thousands, probably a billion dollars annually. In contrast trout farming has poor economics.
    That the primary industry select committee listened to a would-be salmon farmer whose venture at Golden Bay 50 years ago, collapsed – and didn’t hear any public evidence against – is shameful.

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