Angry anglers casting into dangerous waters

January 10, 2011

Anyone with the appropriate licence can fish most waterways in New Zealand but no-one has ever had the freedom to cross private land without permission to get to fishing spots.

In the past it would have been rare for farmers to refuse permission but anglers are getting upset because a few landowners are now giving exclusive rights to access to commercial guides:

In a growing number of “exclusive capture” deals, mostly in prime backcountry, “large sums” have been paid to landowners for the sole right to fish on their land, the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers says.

Rich foreigners and celebrities . . .  pay thousands of dollars for guided helicopter fishing expeditions on New Zealand’s most prized trout rivers.

This is a legitimate way for farmers to make money and could well mean the difference between profit and loss given poor returns for meat and wool in recent years.

The government, correctly, says landowners have the right to do this although it has asked the Walking Access Commission to negotiate for open access where it’s restricted.

Agriculture Minister David Carter said although there were probably more, he was aware of fewer “than a dozen” places where the deals were in place. He personally felt it was the legitimate property right of an owner to sell exclusive access for fishing.

“… the owner of the property certainly has the ability to restrict access and therefore to maximise the economic potential of a fishing spot to the advantage of that property owner.”

However, he had asked the commission to negotiate more open access, including offering cash enticements to landowners.

Negotiation is the right way to approach this and the offer of payment recognises that landowners would be forgoing an income-earning opportunity.

It’s is a far more reasonable approach than the bluster from the Federation of Freshwater Anglers:

Federation president Jim Hale said parts of rivers in the North Island and South Island had been captured by “unscrupulous commercial interests”.

“It is practised by those who have captured these trout fishing waters for their own financial profiteering, even though the running water and the fish within them do not belong to them.

“We will fight this scourge wherever we find it, with whoever is involved, with all of the determination and resources at our disposal,” Mr Hale said.

Anglers will be casting into very dangerous waters if their actions match this rhetoric. Fighting property rights is usually the preserve of despots; it would be a very sad day for democracy if it succeeded here.

Fishing can be a lucrative tourist venture. Guides and others who supply services to anglers make money from it so it’s not unreasonable for landowners to want something too.

Negotiation and compensation are the weapons the anglers should be use if they’re unhappy about that, not confrontation.


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