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Fishy Finances

by Rex N. Gibson

Legend tells us that Maui pulled a fish from the sea whilst on his waka; the South Island Te waka a Maui (the canoe of Maui). That fish was named Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui). It was the North Island. The usual version gives Wellington harbour as its mouth. My Koro always said that Hawkes Bay was the mouth, Mahia Peninsula its tooth, and Wellington its anus. He was reflecting his disdain for what came out of Wellington.

Today, in fishery terms that fish is pulling the waka under and Maui needs some help from his mainland brothers. The North Island Fish and Game Councils are draining the coffers of South island Fish and Game licence holders, and the New Zealand Council and Wellington office are aiding and abetting the plundering.

In the 1830’s Te Rauparaha and ‘friends’ caused havoc in Kaikoura and North Canterbury as they plundered the Pounamu resources there. Their 1830’s greenstone is equivalent to today’s licence money. Just as Tuhawaiki (Bloody Jack) and Taiaroa rallied their southern warriors, came north, and twice soundly thrashed the North Islanders, thus sending them back across Te Moana o Raukawa (Cook Strait) permanently, mainlanders must consider forceful action.

Currently the South Island licence sales supply 66.6% of Fish and Games annual income ($10.973million). However the mainland’s six regional F & G councils receive just 38.9% of the national income to administer the requirements of their licence holders.

The “Head Office” is allocated $2.74m, or 24.97% of the year’s income. All regions receive allocations which include “top ups” totalling of over $786,000 (greater than income) for three North Island councils, whilst one South island region, the West Coast gets an extra $104,630. Two North Island regions, Northland and Taranaki, which lack the West Coast’s excuse of the Southern Alps geographical barrier, only collect about 10% of either North Canterbury’s, Central South Island’s, Southland’s or Otago’s incomes. Despite this they have an equal status around the allocation table.

The system is basically simple. Regions sell licences. The money goes into head office as “a Levy” (or tax?). By a system traditionally known as “horse trading” it is allocated back to regions. There is talk of a “formula” but it is as elusive as the Ranfurly Shield has been in Buller. It is significantly influenced by the managers, rather than the elected councillors. The “formula” is reported to me by one sage as being something written in the deep dark past and based on the distribution of anglers in the days of tweed suits, cane rods and pipe smoking fishermen. Smoke and mirrors also comes to mind. Who would know?

Allocations to the regions are thus bizarrely based on “days gone by”. Those regions where fishing and duck hunting are growing licence incomes are significantly under-resourced while declining regions are living off the spoils of past glories.

The funding allocation back to the main South Island regions works out as follows; the figures are expressed as a percentage of the income collected:

· Southland 55.1%

· Otago 50.0%

· Central South island 48.4%

· North Canterbury 50.5%

There seems to some consistency here. Their Levy is about half their income. These are the regions with the greatest angler usage of their fisheries.

It is worth a comparison with the returns to the major North Island regions:

· Wellington 134.5%

· Eastern 83.9%

· Auckland/Waikato 87.2%

· Hawke’s Bay 91.7%

Their levy is averaging just a couple of percent. Go figure! With the smaller regions the discrepancy is even greater. We have to seriously ask if regions that that have less than 10% of the licence holders of, say Otago, should carry a governance and management structure that parallels Otago (or any of the other major South island regions). Remember that they also have an equally weighted seat around the table at the National Council. The word “amalgamation” comes to mind.

There is no doubt where much of the South island Council funding is going ………………. North!!!! And I do just mean the “Head Office”. Their 25% is also worth further scrutiny at some point. “Head Office” uses more of licence holders’ subscriptions than the five smaller regions combined, or the largest two combined.

The southern regional councils are grappling a salmon fishery crisis. The waterways of the Marlborough, Canterbury and Mackenzie Country plains have been sold out by their regional council and the lowland rivers from Southland north have been flooded with excess phosphates and nitrates seriously altering the ecosystems of the fish; native and introduced. These regions, in particular North Canterbury, are seriously under-resourced to meet their licence holder’s needs in the face of the mammoth waterways crises that they face.

As a southern licence holder it “rankles” that all of the North Island regions are being subsidised by my licence fee and that of my colleagues. Wellington, Auckland/Waikato, Eastern, Hawke’s Bay, Northland and Taranaki are all “corporate beneficiaries” of mainland licence holders’ monies. The only Southerners that I know who go to the North island to fish will focus most of their effort on the Taupo/Tongariro region administered by the Department of Conservation.

The next question now is “Can, or will, Fish & Game restructure itself?” I am sure it cannot, and the vested interests of the North Island regions will strongly resist any meaningful change. Fairness will have nothing to do with it. Political or legal assistance will be needed. We should not be deterred by this prospect. After all it was political intervention that led to the three (shown to be necessary) audits of F & G councils recently carried out.

A colleague has suggested seeking a judicial review of the current funding model. He has already spoken to a Queen’s Council who is certain that the Southern regions would win; the discrepancy is so glaringly unfair.

What happens in ‘the other island’ in the future does not currently concern me as long as they cope without a “hand-out” from the South. I suspect that it will be a case of either political or legal action before the mainland regions are resourced at a level in line with their need to tackle the extensive freshwater degradation resulting from the rampant industrial consequences of industrial dairying and with the new pressures of tourist growth on fishing waters. It is either that, or continuing with our current “subsidies” to the North island corporate welfare beneficiaries and letting the southern regions crash financially. I am confident I can predict South island licence holders’ response.

Footnote: Rex N. Gibson is an Environmental Spokesman for the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers. He is an ecologist and scientist and with a deep personal interest in rivers and outdoor recreation.