Catching up on the Fish & Game Review

This is a commentary on New Zealand Fish and Game, their recent Review and the current 2021 election process, from just another licence holder.


Fish & Game New Zealand (Fish & Game) was formed subject to Part 5A of the Conservation Act 1987 and reports to the Minister of Conservation. This entity updated the long-serving Acclimatisation Societies fisheries and gamebird management model.

Fish & Game currently comprises a National council and 12 Regional councils which are public entities, for which elections are held every three years, with the next election to be held during September and early October 2021. Regional Fish and Game councils then nominate members to be part of the New Zealand Fish & Game Council.

Council members are all volunteers and receive no compensation for their time. Fish and Game is funded almost entirely by licence fees paid by fishing and gamebird shooting licence holders. For the 2019/20 year, Fish & Game revenue was about NZD$11 million. They do not receive government funding.

The thirteen Fish and Game councils, including the National council, have a statutory responsibility under the Conservation Act to advocate for New Zealand’s gamebird and freshwater angling licence holders and the freshwater resource on which our sport relies. The twelve Regional councils are focused on habitat protection and improvement, licence holder access to resource and species management.

Aside from providing a necessary and cost-effective centralised administration function, the National council undertakes an advocacy role with central government, liaising with ministers, government entities and national organisations, and with media. This amplifies and coordinates the regional efforts.

In June 2020, the Minister of Conservation commissioned a review of the governance of Fish & Game New Zealand and regional Fish and Game councils. This was apparently at the request of Fish and Game.

The arms-length review was conducted by a panel of two independent experts, Belinda Clark and John Mills, who provided their comprehensive Review Report to the Minister of Conservation in February 2021. Fish and Game New Zealand subsequently established an independent ‘Review Implementation Steering Group’, chaired by the current NZFG Chair.

Review Findings – A Snapshot

The final Review Report titled ‘Review of the Governance of Fish and Game New Zealand and the Regional Fish and Game Councils’ was publicly released in April 2021.

Pleasingly [for this author], the Review Report did not propose any statutory changes for the collective role and responsibility of the Fish and Game Councils.

It did propose broad changes to the governance, organisational management and administration roles within this group of entities. This included improving governance structure and processes, introducing more professional leadership and strategic ability at governance level. It made recommendations to encourage greater diversity (especially more woman as councillors) and to improve iwi relationships.

The value and critical importance of this set of changes brings Fish and Game into the present century and must not be trivialised or deprecated. [That would be more of a reflection on the commenter than on the Review Report recommendations.]

Whilst there were some recommendations that, if enacted entirely as per the Review Report, may have reduced voter independence, the Implementation Steering Group is advising the Conservation Minister to adopt the following recommendations as sourced from New Zealand Fish & Game email to licence holders 23 August 2021:

There will be a majority of elected Councillors on every Regional Council and the NZ Council.

There will be some independent Councillors, appointed to bring in specialist skills and increase diversity. Independent Councillors will be a minority on Council and will be required to be committed to the political independence and role of Fish and Game.  

Councils will likely be smaller than now at perhaps 8 or 9 members in line with modern management practice.  

There will be an effective representation of iwi, as a Treaty partner.

Governance, conflict of interest, risk management, planning and budgeting will be enhanced.

New Zealand Fish and Game email to licence holders on 23 August 2021

That all seems pretty fair, right? It is hard to see how this could not be of significant benefit to us as licence holders, who are represented by our Regional councils, and to improve the governance of the National council. Further, the Implementation Group has confirmed that:

  • Fish and Game will continue to have political independence as a public entity.
  • Regional councils will continue to have the same roles and responsibilities.
  • Elected councillors will continue to have the elected power to vote in changes.
  • Regional Councils will continue to be consulted and have a bearing on any proposed changes arising from the Review Report.

Well, that all seems reasonable. There doesn’t seem to be a downside in the implementation of the Review Report findings at all, so far.

An Elephant in the Room

The Review Report also recommended amalgamating Fish and Game Regions. This will reduce duplicated expenditure for senior management, without impacting field officer positions. It will reduce the total number of governance roles required across the total Regional councils – surely a logical, practical and positive change acknowledging the tiny size of our national constituency.

It’s fair to assume there must have been some backlash and patch protection from affected regions arising from this recommendation. Some of this may be well-founded as they are required to lobby for their own regions’ interests. There are also some employment issues to be carefully addressed should the recommendations be adopted. According to New Zealand Fish & Game, a project team is working with the Fish and Game Regions to quantify advantages in the proposed “amalgamations and what the future shape should be.” Their recommendations will be interesting to read, once this necessary work has been completed and analysed.

It is the author’s view that the Implementation Steering Group should, in principle, carry out the amalgamation recommendations of the Review Report, despite anticipated objections from affected regions.

Practically, and I’m simply speculating here, but this might mean merging Northland into Auckland, perhaps Taranaki into Wellington, and Eastern into Hawkes Bay, the Canterbury regions being amalgamated (likely to generate the most backlash given their high number of licence holders), the expansive West Coast region being divided up between Nelson/Marlborough (call it Tasman?) and Otago, or some other mascination that will emerge from the Fish and Game amalgamation project group.

Other than the obvious difficulties ahead with the amalgamation recommendations, it seems that the other recommendations resulting from the Review Report that are now being channelled back to the Minster by New Zealand Fish and Game are reasonable, prudent, in line with modern governance practices, well-considered, and should be commended. Early vilification that erupted from some uninformed angling quarters now looks embarrassingly overblown.

Fish & Game Elections

We will soon be in a new Fish and Game election phase, presumably the last one to be held under the ‘pre-Review’ council formats and Regional council structures. Future elections are expected to be a reduced number of elected councillors in a reduced number of Regional councils, assuming the Review’s findings are formally adopted during the next election cycle.

The 2021 elections will commence with nominations for all positions called for by August 26. If nominations exceed the number of positions available for each Regional Council, a vote will be held if required in each region, with voting conducted between September 16 and October 8, 2021. Check the key dates.

Successful candidates will be published on October 12 after postal votes are all received and counted. For Regional councils without sufficient nominations to require an election, expect the list of nominations (ergo, the successful candidates) to be announced shortly after August 26.

Fish & Game Council elections follow the process set out in the Fish & Game Council Regulations 1990. Read the official legislation.

Update: August 29, 2021

Nominations are in and it seems that for six regions, a reduction in elected councillors as recommended for all Regional councils in the Review Report would not make a major impact. In fact, a reduced council size for the Northland, Auckland, Eastern, Hawkes Bay, Nelson/Marlborough and West Coast Regional councils would allow elections to actually be held, rather than all nominations appointed.

Here is a list of all candidates and the Regional councils not requiring elections.

These Regional councils did not require elections: Northland, Auckland, Eastern, Hawkes Bay (1 short), Nelson/Marlborough (2 short), and West Coast (3 short).

These Regional councils will require electoral voting: Taranaki (10 candidates for 8 positions), Wellington (15 for 12), North Canterbury (18 for 8), Central South Island (10 for 8), Otago (13 for 9), and Southland (13 for 9).

For Wellington, Taranaki, Otago and Southland, which through retirement can manage a progressive reduction in councillors, the greatest challenge for the Implementation Steering Group seemingly lies with the two Canterbury regions. Compressing twenty-eight (28) prospective councillors into a council of potentially only 9 members will be fraught with difficulty and potentially further alienate this important voter block. This is where the recommendations of the Review Report will really challenge the Fish & Game council members.

Update: August 16, 2021

Here are final results from the Regional councils requiring elections. Of note, the previous Chair, Ray Grubb, was reelected to the Otago Fish & Game Council as their highest polling candidate (and received the most votes of any candidate nationally). This indicates a fairly clear mandate for the changes proposed in the previous term and for his continued leadership.