Fish Mainland is a new organisation designed by a working group comprising South and Stewart islanders to represent the 100,000 plus recreational fishers in those waters.
The group has sought Government funding and received a positive response about its activities from Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash this week.
He commended the working group “for its efforts to consult widely and develop robust foundation documents”.
“It is good to see the support you have received to date from recreational fishers and other fishing sectors and I look forward to seeing this translate into membership as your initiative progresses,”
However, he kicked for touch on funding, saying he would seek advice from his officials.
The group is taking a markedly different approach from Auckland-based LegaSea, the public and fundraising arm of the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council.
LegaSea activists seek a ban on inshore trawling, despite the impact this would have on livelihoods, fishing communities throughout the country and the supply of fresh fish.
They also oppose the Quota Management System and give little weight to the 1992 Maori Fisheries Settlement that recognises Treaty of Waitangi indigenous fishing rights.
Fish Mainland’s primary purpose is to provide effective professional representation, advice and leadership, according to advisor Dr Randall Bess.
“For these services to be acceptable it is imperative that Fish Mainland works respectfully and collaboratively with Government, iwi and the other fishing sectors to find workable solutions that provide the best outcomes,” he says.
Its mandate is based on a democratic electoral system, with members appointing five regional directors and iwi another two.
Bess concedes this is a challenge, given the recreational fishing sector is far more numerous, diverse and undefined than commercial and iwi fishing interests. The majority of recreational fishers do not belong to fishing clubs.
Membership is open to anyone, though only South Island and Stewart Island residents or property owners who are members have voting rights.
Bess says there has been strong support.
“Many recognise the need for collective representation - they realise that if joined together they can accomplish a lot more.”
All nine South Island iwi have given in-principle support, along with commercial organisations.
Unlike LegaSea, the group is open to funding a recreational voice through a fishing license, as is the case in freshwater fisheries, although its preference is for full Government funding.
The Fish Mainland project has been funded by two wealthy individuals - US-based Julian Robertson through his Aotearoa Foundation and Sir Douglas Myers, one of New Zealand’s richest men at the time of his death in 2017.
Bess said both were passionate about fishing but neither interfered in the project's direction.
A burly, bearded former Alaskan fisherman, Bess was a research fellow at the New Zealand Initiative in 2016-17, when he wrote a controversial report, The Future Catch.
He also produced a companion report, The Overseas Catch, which considered the state of fisheries management abroad.
The American-based The Nature Conservancy has also supported Bess and the Fish Mainland concept.
TNC, which employs 600 scientists worldwide, seeks collaboration with all parties to find solutions to pressing environmental issues.
Fish Mainland is about to launch its website and will kick off public meetings in Nelson and Marlborough in early March and then in other South Island regions.
It will also seek the support of South Island MPs in Government in the lead up to this year's general election.