Acclimatisation societies retained their name for almost 130 years, although their role had changed greatly and few people knew what acclimatisation was. In 1990, a government review of sports-fish and game-bird management changed the number of societies, their roles and the regions they covered. Acclimatisation societies became known as regional fish and game councils – collectively, Fish & Game New Zealand.
Like its predecessors the acclimatisation societies, Fish & Game has statutory responsibility for managing freshwater sport fishing and game-bird hunting. There are 12 fish and game councils with regional offices. The national council, with an office in Wellington, co-ordinates regional activities and lobbies government on behalf of anglers and hunters.
As land has been developed and wetlands drained, water quantity and quality in waterways have declined, and the habitats of sports fish and game birds have deteriorated or disappeared. Habitat protection work is Fish & Game’s main focus, as it had effectively been for acclimatisation societies since the 1950s. The Auckland Acclimatisation Society, for example, has acquired and managed many hundreds of hectares of wetlands since the 1940s.
A major part of Fish & Game’s work is now undertaken through the Resource Management Act as it attempts to protect waterways and wetlands from the effects of land use. The agency often opposes proposals to drain wetlands, dam rivers, or remove large quantities of water for irrigation.
In the 2000s there were very few releases of trout or other species – most populations were wild and self-sustaining. Rearing and releasing trout is not only costly, but also pointless, as the number of fish that a river or lake can support is determined mainly by the natural food supply.
In some places Fish & Game still carried out stocking – for instance in the Rotorua lakes, which have good water quality and food supplies, but lack the swift streams with gravel beds which trout need to spawn.
More new species?
Many species introduced by settlers and acclimatisation societies have become major pests or weeds. The Biosecurity Act 1993 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 aim to prevent the introduction of unwanted organisms. These laws are very strict, and Fish & Game is unlikely to apply to introduce any new species as they would face exhaustive biosecurity tests.
There are also restrictions on moving existing species. For example, Fish & Game has developed a policy to prevent the release of sports fish in a waterway unless that species is already present. In return, existing sports-fish populations are generally recognised as having recreational value in most areas, including national parks.
Introductions made by acclimatisation societies had four different outcomes:
- successful self-sustaining wild populations (brown trout, rainbow trout, mallard duck, Canada goose)
- marginal wild populations (pheasants in some areas, quinnat salmon)
- extreme success to the point of environmental damage (deer, possums)
- total failure (partridges, Atlantic salmon, whitefish, wildebeest).
While societies made mistakes, they also established world-class deer and waterfowl hunting, and brown and rainbow trout fishing.
Acknowledgements to Neil Deans.