New voice for fishers mooted

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 21/02/2013

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A three-day gathering in Nelson has paved the way for a new body to represent New Zealand's recreational fishing sector, said to be the country's biggest recreational group.

The New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council represents fewer than 100,000 fishers, but it is estimated that around 1.2 million Kiwis go fishing, at least occasionally.

The recreational sector has failed to unify into a strong national voice, and struggles to cope with increasingly complex fisheries management and lobbying by the commercial sector and iwi organisations.

The FISHinFuture Search event in Nelson drew together 66 invited people from around New Zealand, representing the range of recreational fishing interests, along with scientists, environmentalists, and government officials and commercial fishing representatives.

It established a 12-person interim steering committee to oversee a full report, due to be released within two months, work on obtaining seed funding, and sketch a plan for a new national organisation.

The committee has yet to elect a spokesman, but project manager Miranda O'Connell said the event, six months in the planning, had shaken the cobwebs off some old beliefs "and opened the way for new shared realities".

"Up to this point in recreational fishing advocacy, so much energy has been spent into negotiating differences that it has left little energy for finding common ground," she said.

"The FISHinFuture Search event enabled total focus at finding those areas of agreement."

The project was initiated by the council, which then stood back from it.

National president Geoff Rowling, of Upper Moutere, attended the event but is not on the steering committee. He said he supported the idea, and the gathering went well.

"Essentially, it's a genuine endeavour to move recreational fishing representation and advocacy from a voluntary base to a professional base.

"That's it in a nutshell - and what sort of structure you might need to achieve that, and how you might set up secure, adequate ongoing funding independent of government."

Mr Rowling said the recreational sector had "slipped behind" over the years, and voluntary organisations such as the council did not have "enough horsepower to do all the jobs that need to be done".

It was important that the new group avoided the factionalism that had been evident in the recreational sector over the past decade, he said.

"The whole idea of this process is to allow something of a new start - new people, fresh ideas, no hidden agendas, a bit of a healing process, and a real attempt to allow anybody to put forward a model without any fear of prejudice."

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The well-established and powerful commercial and iwi lobbyists weren't going to go away, he said, and it was time for the recreational sector to have a fulltime watchdog representing its interests in Wellington.

Mr Rowling said New Zealanders had the right to go fishing enshrined in legislation. "The ability to catch a fish is a lot greyer area, and the right to participate in the decision-making process and management of our fisheries is an even darker grey."

The situation became more difficult as the population grew and greater numbers of people went fishing, he said.

The council would continue to back the new group, he said. "We recognise our own inadequacies and we think fishers deserve a better deal, basically."

More information and updates at fishinfuturesearch.co.nz.

- The Nelson Mail

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