David Haynes column for Reel Life August 2018
I am continuing with the theme of overseas trout anglers as I have had plenty of feedback on the article I wrote for an earlier Reel Life newsletter. I had urged Fish & Game to get serious about collecting data on the extent of usage of our fragile back country fisheries by non-resident licence (NRL) holders. This month I will expand on the what and why as well as urging Fish & Game to broaden their source of such information.
Currently, Fish & game rely on two sources of information on the extent of non-resident anglers:
- Regional back country licenceholders’ surveys.
- The National Angler Survey (NAS) undertaken by NIWA.
This leaves a serious shortfall in both quality and quantity of data for the following reasons:
a) Only five out of the 12 Fish & Game regions actually have designated back country rivers.
b) The NAS is only undertaken every 6 years.
c) The 2014/15 NAS was the first time data on non-resident anglers was available (due to introduction of the NRL licence category).
d) The majority of rivers which attract overseas anglers are not designated as back country or controlled fisheries.
Irrespective of the facts, of which there are little, it is surely time Fish & Game undertook back country river usage surveys annually? Not only can a cut down version of the NIWA survey be undertaken on every NRL purchaser but fishing guides could be asked to keep records as a condition of their concession with DOC. Additionally, helicopter operators could also be required to maintain a log of the locations, dates and residency of anglers as part of their concession. Given the latter have to keep flight records this additional information is usually gleaned as part of the airborne chat that accompanies every back country chopper flight.
Our current fisheries management regime of fill-your-boots, come-one-come-all, laissez-faire is well overdue given not only the increase in tourist numbers, but the increasing amount of time each tourist spends in N.Z. Whilst the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment gleefully trots out how tourist numbers continue to rise (3.82M up to March 2018), less emphasis is placed on the increasing amount of time visitors spend here – more tourists and a longer time visiting are equal issues of concern. MBIE is forecasting 93.6 million visitor days to NZ in 2023. For context MBIE estimate there was 68 million visitor days to February 2018.
Overseas anglers, and the first world population in general, is now more affluent and more widely travelled, so New Zealand, along with Norway, Argentina, Iceland, Alaska & Montana U.S., Russia and Mongolia are on the “ten places to fly fish before you die” bucket list. And yet we are the only country amongst this list that has zero controls or methods to manage usage. Apocryphal though it may be, many anglers are convinced that trout behaviour has changed as a result of high fishing pressure and catch and release – they believe they are becoming nocturnal, much like the response of deer to sustained hunting pressure.
Unpalatable as it is to so many Kiwis who have been raised within an egalitarian and largely rule-less fishing experience, maybe now is the time to start imposing some regulations that enable Kiwis and overseas anglers alike to continue to have access to good back country fishing without conflict, over-use or depletion of the solitude, joy and challenge that personifies back country fishing.
Co-leader Outdoors Party,
Executive Member NZFFA,
Nelson/Marlborough Fish & Game Councillor