New Zealand has been in lockdown for just over two weeks. The entire country, barring essential services and workers, has been asked to stay at home and – to reiterate our prime minister’s advice – everyone has been asked to act like they have COVID-19. The same holds true for anglers and hunters.
Within the first 48 hours leading to the lockdown, most fishing and hunting events were either postponed or cancelled and end-of-the-season plans halted.
There is a lot of information online. Here is a breakdown of what the lockdown means for the fishing and hunting community in New Zealand.
Fishing and hunting banned during lockdown
While Kiwis were initially advised to not take part in activities such as hunting, fishing, and surfing during the COVID-19 lockdown, a new set of rules issued on 3 April officially banned these activities.
In a notice issued by the government, people have been banned from swimming, water-based activities (such as surfing and boating), hunting, tramping, or other activities of a kind that expose them to danger or may require search and rescue services.
In a press release issued by Game Animal Council, general manager Tim Gale urged everyone to follow the new government order.
“Please don’t be in any doubt that this is enforceable,” he said. “Under this order, the police have the power to do anything reasonably necessary to enforce compliance, including using the power of arrest.
“We know that the vast majority of hunters have willingly complied with the guidance so far and while it is deeply frustrating to stay at home during the roar, they are doing their bit to help eliminate COVID-19 in New Zealand.
“For those people who have been selfishly flouting the rules, this should be a wake-up call. It is time to do the right thing and stay at home.”
In a statement released on its website, Fish & Game New Zealand said they are focussed on maintaining the safety of license holders and staff and limiting the spread of COVID-19 by following the advice of World Health Organisation, the New Zealand government, and the Ministry of Health.
“Unfortunately, being at Level Four means that anglers and hunters aren’t able to do the pursuits that they love,” Fish & Game New Zealand chief executive Martin Taylor said.
New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) is asking people to stick to simple outdoor exercise and avoid areas where they could get lost or require search and rescue. They want to ensure that emergency services are available to help those in the greatest need.
2020 roar cancelled
The COVID-19 lockdown means the roar is definitely off this year but there are no plans yet to cancel duck hunting season.
NZDA President Trevor Chappell said that while he is incredibly disappointed, staying home is the right thing to do.
“It is heartbreaking as a hunter to be stuck at home during the roar, but as hunters, we also have our part to play to beat COVID-19,” Chappell said.
“The better we all comply with the restrictions the sooner we will get this virus under control and we can go hunting again.
“It is also really important that we help each other out during this difficult time. So much about hunting is doing it with your family and your mates, so make sure you keep in touch with each other and perhaps spend the time planning that next epic trip you will do together.”
However, the verdict is not out yet on whether the 2020 game bird season will be going ahead.
Fish & Game NZ said there are many factors to consider and the answers are not simple. The organisation reassured that they are working through all the options to ensure that a game bird season goes ahead, including any changes that may be necessary.
In a press release released on its website, Fish & Game NZ said there are a number of variables to consider, such as
- when Alert Level 4 lockdown would finish
- what restrictions would remain in place when the Alert Level 4 is reduced
- the impact of lockdowns and restrictions may potentially become regional
- legislative barriers to changing the game bird season
- the management of hunting on public and private land,
- the impact on managing the species and habitat, including the impacts on breeding seasons and population dynamics.
In a Facebook post on 6 April, Fish & Game NZ said they have been scenario planning around what form the game bird season might take, and an options paper has been prepared for consideration and would be in the hands of the decision-makers the following day.
“The options paper will take into account the most recent significant decision of government, which is the Director-General of Health order at 6pm Friday, April 3rd,” the Facebook post said.
The post further assured hunters that Fish & Game NZ were doing everything they can in the circumstances to ensure they have a game bird season.
License and refunds
All pegs from the 2019 game bird season will be valid for the 2020 season as long as the hunter has a valid 2020 game license.
If there is no opportunity for any game bird hunting during the 2020 season, all licenses purchased would be refunded. However, hunting is currently permitted at Alert Level 3 and below, provided government regulations are followed.
No hunting permits are being issued until further notice and Department of Conservation (DOC) have temporarily disabled the function on their website.
Hunting blocks assigned to hunters as part of the 2020 roar ballots, including the wapiti ballots through the FWF are cancelled until further notice.
The tahr rut ballots will be assessed closer to the time and will be cancelled if restrictions remain in place.
The Rakiura Maori Lands Trust also cancelled bookings and closed its Stewart Island/Rakiura hunting blocks.
The trust operates nine hunting blocks on trust-administered land on the east coast of Rakiura.
Trust chair Simon Gomez said all bookings and permits through to the end of May had been cancelled as required by the government.
The trust was looking to retool its booking system to allow replacement bookings and permits to be issued in 2021.
Gomez added that depending on the COVID-19 situation, blocks could be reopened for island resident bookings later in the year.
While anglers can buy a license online, they must be bought for a date outside the lockdown period. However,
Fish & Game NZ has recommended anglers to not buy day, short break, and long break licenses until the end of the lockdown is clear.
This includes winter licenses that start on 1 May. However, refunds on fishing licenses were not available except for some instances, which will be treated on a case by case basis. More information on this can be found on the Fish & Game website: fishandgame.org.nz.
Staying off the water
Even before the new lockdown rules were announced, Coastguard NZ was urging people not to go out on the water during the lockdown.
“Please don’t put yourself or others at risk, stay off the water and out of harm’s way as we unite against COVID-19,” Coastguard chief executive Callum Gillespie was quoted as saying by Stuff.
DOC facilities closed
DOC also closed all huts and campsites and asked people to not use these until further notice.
“People should no longer stay at DOC huts and campsites as these are not suitable for use during Alert Levels Three and Four,” DOC director-general Lou Sanson said.
“They should also avoid using facilities such as toilets, as it will not be possible to service these facilities and hygiene will be compromised.
“For everyone’s safety, at Alert Level Four, we strongly recommend that people should not head into the backcountry or remote areas, and we recommend they don’t undertake outdoor activities (such as adventure sports or hunting) that would expose them to higher levels of risk.”
However, Sanson added this did not mean people were confined indoors.
“Time spent in nature feeds the soul, keeps us fit and calms the mind. We must all look after ourselves and loved ones during this time.
“It is ok and recommended you head outdoors in your family or self-isolating units. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, choose a quiet location close to home, keep a safe distance from others, and follow all government guidance.”
While the information shared in this article stands correct when we published it, we strongly advise all readers to check covid19.govt.nz for the most up-to-date announcements. Given the nature of the situation, rules and regulations around fishing and hunting may change.