Fish and game
In the early years, societies imported and liberated all kinds of animals, but by the 1870s they focused less on introducing bizarre creatures. As early as the 1880s it was clear that not every introduction was beneficial – small birds such as chaffinches and sparrows were eating farmers’ crops. Terming them ‘the small bird nuisance’, farmers poisoned them with strychnine-laced grain.
By the 1890s acclimatisation societies focused on species for hunting and fishing, such as deer, game birds, trout and salmon. They managed stocks, set hunting seasons and licensed hunters and anglers. Deer came under government control in 1930 after their numbers grew hugely and they became a pest.
It was thought that waterways had to be continually restocked with fish, so resources were poured into trout hatcheries and trout were released in many streams and lakes, even after wild populations had become established.
In the 1930s, scientist Derisley Hobbs’s studies of trout reproduction showed that hatchery releases were a waste of money, as natural spawning produced more juveniles than needed in most rivers. The Nelson society ceased hatchery operations in 1946 – but many other societies ignored Hobbs’s findings. Anglers who couldn’t catch fish blamed it on a lack of stocking rather than their lack of skill. Stocking continued, despite the expense. It was only in the 1980s that most societies accepted the wisdom of Hobbs’s studies from half a century earlier.
Game farms, mostly in the North Island, reared birds for release into the wild – mainly pheasants, but also partridges, quail, mallard ducks and Canada geese. Raising birds was a lot easier than rearing trout in hatcheries – yet there was little evidence that they added to wild populations. It seemed clear that in some parts of the country pheasants just would not become established. But pressure still came from hunters to raise and release the birds – a practice which did not end until the 1990s. In the 2000s, private game farms raise pheasants for release in areas where they can be shot for a fee.
Dead thrushes, live monkeys
On 1 May 1869, the Auckland newspaper the Daily Southern Cross reported: ‘The brig “Waverly”, which arrived in harbour last night, brought a number of monkeys and Java sparrows consigned to the Auckland Acclimatisation Society. A number of thrushes were shipped, but died on the voyage.’ 1
Predators of valued introduced species were deemed to be ‘vermin’. Native black shags and eels preyed on juvenile trout – so society staff trapped eels in streams and shot shags at known rookeries. Harrier hawks were also thought to be a threat to game birds, especially pheasants. At various times bounties were paid out on dead hawks, hedgehogs, ferrets, stoats, weasels and shags. In 1917 the Auckland society had to stop paying out the hawk bounty, or it would have been bankrupted.
From the 1940s vermin control was questioned increasingly, as research had shown that predators did not greatly affect game stocks in favourable habitats. In the 1960s societies abandoned the bounty scheme, which had cost them a lot (and provided many boys with pocket money) and did very little to protect stocks of game birds and sports fish. Anglers’ attitudes towards shags and eels remained negative for decades, and in the 2000s there were still some calls for shag control.
From the 1950s, societies became concerned about the effects of land use on game-bird and sports-fish populations. Wetlands were being drained for farming, water taken from rivers for irrigation, and rivers dammed. Acclimatisation societies became increasingly involved in working to protect these habitats.