Associate Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson has refused a request from Fish & Game for an increase in licence fees.
She justified her decision on the grounds of the economic recession, and the zero increase in Department of Conservation hut fees and Lake Taupo fishery licence fees (administered by Doc).
Fish & Game appealed and she reviewed her decision but still didn’t approve an increase.
She acknowledged Fish and Game’s recommendations carried a great deal of weight, the increase was less than that sought last year and accepted some costs could not be controlled.
However, she said Fish and Game could rely on reserves to cover any shortfalls during the year.
Fish & Game’s chief executive Bryce Johnson was not impressed by this.
Mr Johnson said the 2009-10 licence fee was below that required to meet the real costs of managing the sport fishery.
“Erosion of reserves to a level where they no longer provide for good financial management will simply require greater fee increases in the future,” he said.
He also warned that key priorities, such as protecting habitat for fish and public access, could be affected.
I might have had some sympathy for this argument had Fish & Game not wasted their money challenging private property rights on pastoral lease land, against the advice of Crown Law.
Federated Farmers made this point in applauding the minister’s decision. Donald Aubrey, Federated Farmers game and pest management spokesperson said:
“It is refreshing to have a Minister that is prepared to stand up to this statutory organisation and demand a higher standard of performance.
“Over the years, we have seen Fish & Game undertake some reckless spending at the national level so I’m not surprised it is in need of further funding. I am only too happy that the Government has blocked its proposal to increase its licence fee from $105 to $109 for the 2009-10 season.
“Even though Fish & Game’s national office was in possession of Crown law advice to the contrary, the hunting lobby still went ahead with its unsuccessful challenge to high country farmers’ exclusive possession of pastoral leasehold land. This is a sure sign of how irresponsible Fish & Game has become.
“This failed attempt to by-pass all the work associated with walking access in the high country was a spiteful and damaging waste of the fishing and hunting license fee. . .
It wasn’t only licence fees that were wasted, the Crown and pastoral lessees also wasted money defending the case.
After her initial refusal to increase fees, Fish and Game went to a public law specialist and she was “presented with a three- or four-page diatribe” asking her to review the decision.
She questioned why Mr Johnson had not discussed the issue with her directly instead of spending anglers’ money on a legal decision.
Fish & Game’s headquarters needs to forget get out of politics and lawyers’ offices and back to its core business which is where the licence fees ought to be directed. Having less money than they asked for might help them do this.