Designated Waters Licence

An example Designated Water Licence river in New Zealand

In a positive move from Fish & Game New Zealand to tackle over-crowding on some of our more heavily fished trophy rivers, there’s a new endorsement to the Whole Season Freshwater Fishing Licence for 2023/24. This applies to both Resident Anglers and Non-Resident Anglers.

The Designated Waters Licence operates in six regions, extending on the Backcountry Licence trial optionally added to the Whole Season Licence in recent years for specific rivers in the more popular remote fisheries across the South Island plus a few North Island locations such as the valuable Upper Rangitikei River.

There are some critical differences this year in that the Designated Waters Licence comes with a ‘per region’ fee of NZ$5 for Resident Anglers (kiwi fishers) for a full season and NZ$40 for Non-Resident Anglers PER DAY.

The maximum cost for NZ Resident Anglers is NZ$30 for all six regions operating designated waters in the new scheme. However, and my only gripe with the scheme, even child anglers (who are not charged for the Full Season Licence) are forced to pay full price to fish selected streams such as the easily accessed Upper Wairau and Travers Rivers in Marlborough. This seems an unnecessary gouging on an eager young angler accompanying their parent/angling mentor that could easily have been carved out of the revenue grab.

For Non-Resident Anglers (mostly overseas visitors), there’s a further and substantial caveat. They can only purchase up to five days per region per season. This was clearly introduced to limit over-staying on pressure sensitive fisheries and will be judged as a politically popular move by jaundiced New Zealand fly fishers. For the vast majority of overseas anglers, particularly those being guided, aside from the paltry fee (when compared to other costs for visiting NZ to fish), there will be no change to their plans.

There is a myriad of water available not covered by the Designated Waters Licence (DWL) and Non-Resident Anglers don’t typically spend more time that this allows for in any one place. They can also seek to access the Controlled Fisheries (e.g. Upper Greenstone, Worsley, Clinton) already covered by a successful ballot system (fee-free once the Non-Resident Licence is secured). But for those overseas visitors looking to bike or walk up some of our special remote high country streams to camp for a month, dining on brown trout tacos, the DWL puts an end to this abuse of the fishery.

Fragile river systems such as the Hope catchment in North Canterbury are covered and there is a wide number of rivers in Otago that are popular with overseas anglers. Something needed to be done and this is a good start so well done to Fish & Game New Zealand. I hope the revenue grab is directed into quality fisheries management, analysis and reporting to further enhance our backcountry waterways.

I’m surprised there is only one North Island backcountry river in the new Designated Waters Licence regional scheme, but it does show that the majority of pressure is on the South Island streams. This endorsement programme will surely evolve over future years, but is a very good progression in the goal of preserving our valuable backcountry fishing resource for future generations.