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Salmon Shenanigans

My dictionary says that “silly or high-spirited behaviour” is “shenanigans”. It also implies “dishonest or secretive behaviour”; that is why it is often used in regard to politicians. No one seems to know the origin of the word with suggested derivation from Irish, German, Spanish, Old English, French, and Californian gold rush words. My Grandparents of Irish descent used it a lot however to describe uninformed behaviours and statements.

I am experiencing some shenanigans about the dramatic actions of the North Canterbury Fish and Game to resurrect the region’s salmon fishery. There has been an excellent press release put out by F & G (check their website) but it doesn’t seem to have penetrated far. As a regular Lower Waimakariri River salmon angler, I seem to encounter a lot of opinion and very little fact. I know, “it’s the Facebook trolls to blame” you will say. That is probably true. Malcolm Bell has done an excellent podcast available on the Complete Anglers’ website. Only a few seem to have listened. I guess many older people grew up reading comics and the middle-aged ones have “goggle-box-it is”, while anyone born since 1990 has had a smart phone surgically implanted into the palm of their hand, i.e. sadly most folk seem to need something visual rather than listening to a podcast. My better half says “men never listen [properly] anyway”.

The season for sea-run salmon has been shortened (when compared with recent years); it is now 1 December to 31 March. The number of salmon permitted per day has been reduced from two to one. In theory an angler can still catch 118 salmon at 1 per day. Of course it doesn’t quite work out like that. There are too many variables: like work, chores, weather, river flow, the salmon themselves, etc.

The two photos show a river mouth (left) and an upstream (right) salmon. I apologise for appearing in both photos, I am not bragging, it helps my credentials as I am happy for you to discuss the new salmon season logic if you see me “out there”.

The reality was that it was not possible to fish in Canterbury during October and November 2019 anyway as the salmon rivers were consistently in flood. The new rule hardly disadvantaged anyone. April has always been cold, and “hit & miss” fishing. Yet …., Some of the salmon tragics I encounter are predicting the end of life as we know it because they are not allowed catch 2 salmon a day or fish in April. As if they ever got more than a few salmon a year anyway; unless they were around in the mid 1990s. In “great grandad’s day” one salmon was enough as nobody had deep-freezers; or unless great granny was prepared to spend all day bottling them. One person who chewed my ear about the new regulations finally admitted that he had not caught a salmon in the last three years anyway.

The other shenanigan type comment is “Lots of people I know won’t buy a licence if these restrictions continue [or get tougher]”. I am sure it is aggrandizement (look it up) of the facts. Salmon fishing is a passion and an addiction to many of us. River mouth fishing is a social experience, “the melting pot of our salmon angling culture” (if you are into that sort of thing), with the bonus of a Kahawai or two whenever our lines need stretching

So why did the F & G Council cut back on the season and daily take? The answer is so bloody obvious that the uninformed refuse to confront it. There have been less and less salmon coming into the rivers since the late 1990s. A couple of the Facebook trolls have been having a field day with the lack of understanding of this. Fake news abounds.

I wrote an article last year (“Salmon 101”) questioning the logic, or lack of it, “in catching the very last salmon”. I was worried about the complete loss of the Canterbury’s salmon fishery. I still feel that way! We have to let enough salmon get back up to the spawning streams. It is as simple as that. In Canada and elsewhere season limits exist. Anglers get a licence that entitles them to catch a set number of salmon in a season. Such a restriction is on the cards here to allow the numbers of wild fish to rebuild. This rebuild must be accompanied by some parallel actions, particularly spawning stream enhancement and active advocacy against the destruction of the normal flows in our major salmon rivers by over-abstraction and hydro river flow manipulation.

Why not just flood the headwater spawning streams with fertilised ova and fry from hatcheries? (A) there is barely enough wild fish returning to the headwaters to get sufficient wild fish eggs for transplanting, and (B) the scientific work, world-wide, has shown that hatchery reared fish (and fertilized ova) actually destroy wild fisheries, and (C) we (including me,) have helped do this ova planting for a couple of decades with no noticeable improvement in salmon numbers. This hatchery fish dilemma is next month’s article. We need facts without the shenanigans of the trolls.

We either listen to the science or lose the sea run salmon fishery. Let’s hope that nobody ever gets the distinction of catching the last wild salmon.

For the “cultured” among you I have plagiarised an old poem/song.

A Salmon Angler’s Lament

We have heard a lot of our river’s plight, of belligerent anglers demanding their right,

But this is an issue that hasn’t happened before, now the anglers are livid, there are no salmon to catch any more.

To the bulk of these folk it was the best way, every week in the season they’d be on their way,

Off down to the river with time than was won, by clearing the chores lined up by dear mum.

But the salmon have gone and I’m asking you, since there is no fishing what can a guy do?

At the Rakaia and Waimak no comps will be held. The sponsors will be unhappy, with the prizes withheld.

Now just yesterday on my way home from work, the mate said to me, some fishing wouldn’t hurt

What’s wrong with you I said, have you gone blond. He said his wife claims there’s still perch in the pond.

A tourist popped in to our work today, said he was Herman from the old USA

He said that his catch rate was never so great and then I noticed his creel was full of whitebait.

For the salmon have gone, so I’m asking you, since there is no fishing what can a man do.

I’ve hung up my waders and stacked up my rods, my spinners are rusting and I’ve mothballed the quad.

I went to the club with my card to get in, when approaching the door I heard a violin,

With a hat on the ground, and his 4 wheel drive standing by, was my tackle shop guy with a tear in his eye.

They’ve hung up their braid, their reels and their priest, the whole salmon business is now de-ceased

I’ll go into town and book my seat to cold Can-a-da, and hope that their salmon match those of Rakai -a.

The salmon have gone, so I’m asking you, since there is no fishing what can a man do

I’ve sold up my truck, there’re no trips to the river and so I’m drowning my sorrows and killing the liver. Yes, I’m drowning my sorrows and killing the liver.

By Rex N. Gibson

With apologies to the Web Brothers (“The Jockeys are Striking”, 1960)

Note: Rex is an Executive member, and spokesperson on environmental issues, of the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers Inc. which advocates on behalf of anglers. Membership for individuals is free. Check it out at