A "FISHING licence by stealth" is being plotted by the group that is supposed to be representing recreational saltwater anglers.
The spectre of an annual fee appears in a range of plans being discussed by the New Zealand Recreational Fishing Council and the government.
The council, which is short of cash, is considering selling an elite membership card that would allow holders bigger bag limits.
It is also discussing a levy on every hook sold and charging for every fish landed. Council president Ross Gildon said the council needed money to cover the cost of representing anglers against commercial and Maori needs. The government recognises the council as representing anglers.
Gildon confirmed plans for raising money also included selling or leasing a share of public fish to commercial fishing boats. Critics, including protest group Option4, say any money taken from anglers is effectively imposing a fishing licence. Option4 was formed last year to oppose government plans for recreational fishing. The pressure for funding is revealed in minutes of a meeting between the council and the Ministry of Fisheries' top civil servant, Stan Crothers. In the minutes, he appeared to offer the council $5 million annually- as long as it came up with a similar amount within five years. Crothers was recorded as saying the money would pay for a new government quango to manage recreational fishing. Gildon said the new body would eventually need to match government contributions, adding: "Without being able to licence people, it is very hard to get money."
He said a levy on every angler entering fishing contests would help. He gave the Ninety Mile Beach contest as an example. '`They are just 'hey yous' from all over the North Island that don't contribute anything to fisheries research." He said the membership card offering increased bag limits had not been well received by fishing clubs but "it's not something we've thrown away".
Council funds had dropped because the NZ Big Game Fishing Council had pulled its $30,000 backing and many donations went to the Option4 group. According to minutes of the meeting, Crothers said the "recreational rights process had been hijacked" and sketched a structure for the new body. Crothers is quoted as saying: "There will be seed funding for a period of, say, three to five years aiming for a shared funding, say, one to one, into the future.
"It is likely the ministry will initially provide about $5m per annum in seed funding to get the regional organisations running.
"You have to start to identify what you want the future to be and where you want to be in it."
Last week Crothers disputed the emphasis given to his statements in the minutes, though he was given a copy for correction before they were made public. "What I was saying was if they want an institution like that, if the government were supportive, my estimate is that there would need to be $5m worth of seed money. I've got no authority to commit the government to $5m."
A spokesman for Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson said there was no money budgeted for the project and no plans to create it.
Paul Barnes, who founded Option4! said plans to establish the quango mirrored options that had already been rejected.
"Mr Crothers' offer of $5m seed funding will only last for a few years before the council needs to contribute. Where do they think they are going to get the money?
"I am appalled they have not been upfront and they have decided on licencing by stealth."
David Fisher, Sunday Star Times, 26 May 2002