Southland Anglers Confront Tourist “Tsunami”

by Tony Orman

A group of Southland trout fishers are alarmed at the tsunsami of visiting overseas anglers swamping some of New Zealand’ finest fly fishing. David Linklater is spokesman for a group called “Kiwi Anglers First” aiming to protect the egalitarian recreational trout fishing heritage of New Zealanders from the growing commercial trend.

“Recreational as meaning not for wholesale commercial use. Tourism is commercial use,” he says.

David Linklater describes New Zealand’s trout fishing as Kiwi’s priceless recreational heritage.

“Priceless meaning it is worth more than money. The Kiwi angling heritage should never be reduced to dollar values.”

He argues that the whole point of tourism is to make money whereas the early European settlers established trout fishing as a public recreational heritage, first and foremost. Tourism should never encroach and erode the rights of the New Zealand sporting angler to enjoy his or her own heritage.

David Linklater says the South Island back country in particular is now dominated by guides and non-resident anglers.

“There are foreigners building a lodge in the upper Ahuriri and helping themselves to our heritage. To the Kiwi angler it is like a foreign takeover.

“If we are going to pass on quality angling heritage to our grandchildren, tourist angling must be controlled.”

I could not agree more based on my experience of the last couple of seasons on the upper Wairau River in Marlborough. In Marlborough I have seen devastating detrimental effect of undue angling pressure largely by duos of guides and client on the upper Wairau River, known as “The Rainbow” country. One local lodge reportedly employs eleven guides who regularly visit the upper Wairau, competing with each other and with recreational fly fishers. The result has been trout, constantly disturbed, have forsaken the feeding lies for deep water. Sight fishing has virtually disappeared and fish have become extremely difficult to catch, even for skilled fly casters with impeccable presentation.

I have seen it on another Marlborough River, the Goulter which is a tributary mid-reaches of the Wairau River. It has been hammered incessantly and is now a mere shadow of the river I fished 30 and 40 years ago. David Linklater says the same was now true almost for every classy backcountry river. The pressure continues to grow.

Frequently on backcountry rivers, helicopters fly affluent tourist fly fishers into rivers.

Many New Zealanders just cannot afford a helicopter hire and instead hike into rivers only to find a helicopter with tourist anglers has landed upstream.  Several years ago at a NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers AGM, I put to the guest speaker, the director of Fish and Game NZ, about the need for some rivers to be ‘helicopter free’  zones. He nodded in agreement commenting it was a very good idea. Nothing was done in the intervening several years.

Similarly David Linklater is critical of the lack of action from Fish and Game.

“More and more tourists arrive each year, augmenting the problem. Yet Fish and Game, which is supposed to manage the fisheries on our behalf, has no strategy to deal with it. There is no proposal to control the numbers of overseas anglers and there are no limitations on the number of guides.”

Anyone – even non-New Zealanders – can set up as a guide in New Zealand and contribute to the degrading of sensitive and vulnerable back country trout fisheries.

“To preserve our angling inheritance in anything like its present form, we will have to control tourist access and also the proliferation of guides. The present policies are farcical,” says David Linklater.

While critical of Fish and Game’s lack of action, he says anglers individually and collectively have a responsibility. Unfortunately too many are apathetic and selfishly indifferent.

“The majority’s present indolence and apathy amount to nothing less than surrender – a sure guarantee that the tourist commercial takeover will prevail.”

“Kiwi Anglers First” (KAF) is a New Zealand initiative to arrest the pressure and consequential decline via a simple and proven approach to fisheries management.

“If implemented it would reverse the hijacking of our angling,” says David Linklater. “But it will not happen unless you and your angling mates join in and lend support.”

At one stage I worked for several years in public relations marketing at the former NZ Tourist and Publicity Department. It was common policy that the best tourist was the wealthy affluent. The ones to target in marketing were the big spenders, who would pay a luxury lodge a couple of thousand dollars to stay. But that sensible marketing philosophy seemed lost on immediate previous prime minister John Key who as Minister of Tourism talked only numbers, i.e. quantity, rather than quality of tourist.

John Key was a poor tourist minister with no understanding of “added value” in  wooing affluent tourists. He short-sightedly dealt in numbers, growth and a commodity approach.

At the end of 2016 the tourist industry boasted of a record 3.5 million overseas visitors with talk of 4 million this year and by 2023 of 7 million! John Key and others are addicted to growth and more growth, like a dog chasing its tail. Advocating a sheer weight of tourist numbers, John Key encouraged “low value” tourists, such as the type of “trout bums” who buy a vehicle at one end of the country and spend weeks, even months, travelling to the other end of the country. They and backpackers – low spending, low yielding tourists – camp by streams fishing one stream after another.

Many kill every trout they catch. Worse still they jettison their rubbish and excreta by paths to rivers. I have encountered filthy toilet paper and dumps of human excreta on paths leading to rivers in both the South and North Islands. Last New Year I returned to an old trout fishing haunt in Hawkes Bay and encountered toilet paper and human shit on the track. On the Desert Road, I witnessed an obviously European tourist peeing in full sight of the highway on a mown grass area.

Of course John Key doesn’t give a stuff. He will be holidaying in Hawaii.

Tourists cannot be denied entry. But it needs management and especially relative to trout fishing, with some management of guide numbers and of “foreign” guides operating.

Allied to the increasing pressure on NZ’s fragile back country trout rivers is the obsessive mantra of growth and people numbers. This is happening now with 4.7 million people.

What will it be like with 6 million or 8 or 10 million people? Sadly and tragically New Zealand has no population policy.

 

 

Upper Wairau-under pressure?

 

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