Felt Soled Waders Restrictions New Zealand FAQ

The issues around felt soles, their ability to carry live didymo for extended lengths of time, and the difficulty in cleaning them thoroughly, have been widely and publicly discussed over the past two years. The issue of felt soles as a high risk vector for aquatic pests has had wide coverage in angling media over that period. This has included articles in past Fish & Game magazines, and the 2007 fishing regulations advising anglers against the difficulty of cleaning felt soled waders and encouraging the use of alternative footwear.

The proposal to restrict the use of felt soles underwent a consultation process over April and May this year, with the proposal and discussion document distributed to key stakeholder agencies and made available on the Fish & Game website. In addition the issue was covered in the electronic magazine Reel Life to some 47,000 subscribers. It is not possible to consult every angler on an individual basis.

This is similar to saying laws about wearing seatbelts mean people drive less safely. The Check, Clean, Dry message, and other good river hygiene practices will continue to be promoted by a range of agencies.

Fish & Game New Zealand believes the proposed restrictions will heighten people’s awareness of the serious need for them to take responsibility for our waterways.

Fish & Game New Zealand is not responsible for, and does not have the ability to manage the behaviour of other freshwater users or the equipment they use. The evidence for the spread of didymo points to anglers as being one of the likely carriers.

Fish & Game New Zealand wants to be responsible and set an example in protecting our waterways. It encourages other sectors to look at ways they can improve their own performance to protect the quality of our freshwater.

It is true, there are many other porous carriers used by recreational water users, from clothing to ropes and other recreational equipment. Felt soles present a particular challenge in that they are thick and make an ideal trap for microscopic cells like didymo, which are forced deep into the soles when walking in affected waterways.

However, people must continue to clean any of their gear which has been used in a natural freshwater body. Any clothing or other gear which remains damp and is not cleaned is a risk.

The restriction will mean that felt soles may not be used by anglers while fishing for sports fish in estuaries within any Fish & Game region.

Estuaries remain a low risk fishery since didymo does not survive in salt water. However other pests in the future could be more tolerant of saline conditions.

There are two reasons that justify the restriction now – one is to keep the North Island free from didymo, and to restrict the use of felt soles is considered a significant step in keeping it that way (and out of those many South Island catchments that are still didymo free).

The other is that felt soles are also well known to be effective carriers of all microscopic aquatic pests and the restriction will assist in reducing the spread of these other pests in the future.

Although there remain hundreds of waterways still didymo free, it is in New Zealand’s best interests for everyone to treat every waterway as though it is infected with didymo. It is important that anglers and all other water users Check, Clean, Dry gear when going from one waterway to another, everywhere in New Zealand.

A scientific model produced by NIWA shows that 73% of the most likely New Zealand rivers for the establishment of didymo are in the South Island. Although there is no evidence yet of any spread of didymo to the North Island, rivers within the central North Island in particular could become affected.

Eradicating any microscopic organism from a natural environment is virtually impossible, especially in an aquatic environment. In New Zealand a range of management options are being investigated including control, reducing the spread, minimising impacts and protecting high value sites.

Fish & Game New Zealand is active in all of these management options.

The evidence suggests anglers are one of the main carriers of microscopic aquatic pests such as didymo. It is acknowledged waterfowl are possible carriers over local distances, but the evidence available suggests they are not a high risk.

A high risk carrier of microscopic aquatic organisms like didymo does not allow time for a phase in process. It may already be in rivers we are unaware of, and could just as easily be transported to others during a phase in period. Restricting the use of felt-soled waders in New Zealand freshwater environments would immediately remove this high risk.

Applying the restriction in one island and not the other is not realistic. Protection is about looking after all of our waterways. It is true that to date didymo has not been detected in the North Island. However many anglers fish on both islands and people still need to check, clean, dry their gear to reduce the risk of rivers becoming affected.

Similarly, Fish & Game New Zealand supports MAF Biosecurity New Zealand and the Department of Conservation in protecting high-value sites. However, it does not consider these actions to be enough.

Felt-soled waders are considered a high risk carrier of microscopic aquatic organisms like didymo. Since 2004, didymo has been an example of what can occur and why water users must remain ever vigilant to other possible outbreaks.

Fish & Game New Zealand considers the risk remains that other unwanted aquatic organisms can infect our waterways. It believes restricting the use of felt soles is one further step in reducing the possibility of that occurring.

Felt-soled waders provide greater confidence to the user on wet and slippery stony rivers. However, in practice they may also encourage the wearer to go ‘just that little bit further’ and extend the limit of their self-confidence.

The advantage of felt quickly disappears as the felt ages and unless replaced regularly will not grip as well as a non-slip rubber sole with similar wear. Felt soles are also less safe on wet grass and muddy banks.

Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own safety and make judgements accordingly all the time. New Zealand waterways present many dangers and we must all take care getting to, fishing in, or crossing our rivers.

All footwear has limitations and it has never been possible to wade safely in all parts of all rivers. Using river crossing techniques including the aid of a wading stick can reduce the danger, but no crossing can be considered absolutely safe.

Water Safety New Zealand and its partner ACC have developed a range of RiverSafe initiatives to provide education, training and development and to actively promote water safety awareness in and around our rivers.

There is a range of alternative wading equipment available, and it is not Fish & Game’s role to advise on brands.

The Fish & Game magazine and other angling media contain advertisements for aquatic footwear. Many of today’s sandals and recreational footwear are able to be used in water situations.

It is also possible to re-sole old felt soled boots or have the gumboot part of old waders replaced.

Costs will clearly vary depending on the option and the number of boots involved. These options are best explored by contacting a local hunting and fishing store, shoe shop or boot maker or finding information on this on the internet.

Felt soles are not an item of equipment that is essential to the activity of fishing. Similarly, an injury can just as easily occur on the way to a waterway as in the waterway itself.

Therefore Fish & Game New Zealand will not be responsible for meeting anglers’ costs or risks.

In the First Schedule of the Anglers Notice it states under 2.4 that no person shall fish for sports fish by using felt-soled waders or footwear incorporating or having attached a sole of felted, matted or woven fibrous material when sports fishing.

Didymo has been declared an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993. It is an offence under this Act to spread an unwanted organism, with penalties of up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

Anglers are subject to compliance checks by Fish & Game rangers. The use of felt soles for sports fishing will be an offence under the ‘using unauthorised tackle or gear’ category of the Anglers Notice.

As from 1 October 2008, the same restriction will apply for all freshwater sports fishing in New Zealand, including the Taupo Fishing District. Click on the following link for more information about the Taupo Fishery.

Felt soled waders may be brought into the country. This is a separate issue from restricting the use of felt soles while fishing.

Advice from MAF Biosecurity New Zealand is that currently staff at the borders are able to confiscate waders or other fishing equipment if they suspect they are not completely dry. Click the following link to read more information on the Biosecurity New Zealand website.

HOWEVER, Fish & Game New Zealand would encourage visiting anglers to leave their felt soled waders at home and not bring them into New Zealand. It would also ask visiting anglers to check, clean, dry all fishing equipment before arriving in this country.

Restricting the use of felt soles does not mean we can all relax. Fish & Game New Zealand acknowledges and understands that there are many other carriers, but believes the risk is effectively reduce by restricting the use of felt soles for sports fishing.

This process does not mean Fish & Game thinks this will control the spread of didymo. It is as important now as it was yesterday that all freshwater users continue to apply the practice of check, clean, dry.

For further information and research on didymo and felt soles, see the Biosecurity New Zealand (BNZ) website, and specifically this Didymo Research Document for information of the survival of didymo in felt soles. BNZ also have an excellent Freshwater Angler and Didymo FAQ site.

Restricting the use of felt soles does not mean we can all relax. Fish & Game New Zealand acknowledges and understands that there are many other carriers, but believes the risk is effectively reduce by restricting the use of felt soles for sports fishing.

This process does not mean Fish & Game thinks this will control the spread of didymo. It is as important now as it was yesterday that all freshwater users continue to apply the practice of check, clean, dry.

For further information and research on didymo and felt soles, see the Biosecurity New Zealand (BNZ) website, and specifically this Didymo Research Document for information of the survival of didymo in felt soles. BNZ also have an excellent Freshwater Angler and Didymo FAQ site.