Go­ing hunt­ing and fishing

Bryce John­son is a fierce ad­vo­cate of hunt­ing, fishing and the en­vi­ron­ment. In his 37 years as head of Fish & Game New Zealand. he’s been un­afraid to tackle big is­sues and even big­ger op­po­nents.


After an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment three months ago, Bryce John­son has kept busy while his re­place­ment is re­cruited by con­tin­u­ing a cam­paign against the pow­er­ful dairy in­dus­try.

Some years ago, Fish & Game NZ started a con­tro­ver­sial cam­paign call­ing out ‘Dirty Dairy­ing’ and the threat poor agri­cul­tural prac­tices posed to clean wa­ter­ways and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“We are not anti-dairy farm­ing. We are anti-en­vi­ron­men­tally un­sus­tain­able dairy farm­ing; a sub­tle but sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence,” Bryce told del­e­gates at a Fed­er­ated Farm­ers Coun­cil meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary.

Bryce’s ap­pear­ance at this and other dairy in­dus­try gath­er­ings in the past year is tes­ta­ment to his tenac­ity and his abil­ity to en­gage op­po­nents in solv­ing prob­lems.

“At the time when we started it I’m sure my photo went up in a lot of cow sheds and had cow shit thrown at it ev­ery milk­ing,” he said.

Fish & Game NZ is a high-pro­file or­gan­i­sa­tion, which is not viewed through the nar­row lens of hunt­ing and fishing: it has a much broader pub­lic role as an ad­vo­cate for the natural land­scape, clean water flow­ing rivers, ac­cess to the out­doors for all pur­poses.

“We have an un­der­stand­ing that we don’t worry about whether you look at a duck through binoc­u­lars or down a shot­gun bar­rel; we worry about the duck, the habi­tat and the en­vi­ron­ment,” Bryce said.

“We are not out there de­fend­ing wet­lands we hunt on, we are de­fend­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. We took a lot of hits over the dirty dairy cam­paign at the time and a lot of threats, but we took it up on be­half of the pub­lic, peo­ple who want clean water to swim in and to fish and hunt in.”

Bryce’s jour­ney has been eas­ier be­cause of Fish & Game’s struc­ture.

In 1980, Bryce led Ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion So­ci­eties, a hang­over from early English set­tlers.

“These so­ci­eties were set up to cre­ate a ‘lit­tle bit of Eng­land’ and they in­tro­duced fa­mil­iar game species from the early 1800s,” he said.

While sim­i­lar so­ci­eties in Aus­tralia had long since van­ished, in New Zealand they sur­vived (with recog­ni­tion from Par­lia­ment) un­til 1990.

When the gov­ern­ment of the day de­cided to un­tan­gle a mess of quasi-au­ton­o­mous non-gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tions, Bryce John­son saw an op­por­tu­nity.

“It ter­ri­fied them that they would be axed and many were. We put our hand up and said we want a re­view, we want to strengthen our hand in the law.”

There was a seam­less tran­si­tion to Fish and Game Coun­cils with a strength­ened statu­tory man­date.

“As long as we dis­charge our func­tions to the best of our abil­ity, the gov­ern­ment is not in a po­si­tion to tell us how to do our job,” he said.

“The re­gional coun­cils set the lim­its upon them­selves but it is very much a sci­ence based process.”

Hunt­ing and fishing are cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant in New Zealand, and for many fam­i­lies, a key source of food. Anti-hunt­ing ac­tivism is not an is­sue that di­verts re­sources away from core ac­tiv­i­ties.

“It has al­ways amazed me that the Aus­tralian sit­u­a­tion hasn’t crossed the Tas­man,” Bryce said.

In New Zealand, too many peo­ple are still close to na­ture and many rely on hunt­ing and fishing as na­ture’s su­per­mar­ket.”

Bryce isn’t from a hunt­ing fam­ily al­though his fa­ther was a keen salt water fish­er­man.

“It was a god­fa­ther who in­tro­duced me to hunt­ing with an old .22, which I in­her­ited when he died. I was also in­tro­duced to trout fishing.”

At univer­sity, in the midst of ris­ing meat prices, Bryce saw an op­por­tu­nity to fund his ed­u­ca­tion.

“The meat price got a bit high for deer so I spent ev­ery week­end stalk­ing deer and sell­ing the meat to fund my univer­sity stud­ies,” he said.

After univer­sity, Bryce worked for the Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter and did research on the Chukar par­tridge, an in­tro­duced bird that ranges high in the alps.

“I’ve had chances to leave and do other stuff, in­clud­ing en­ter Par­lia­ment, but I’ve stayed be­cause I love it,” he said.

“Clubs are for peo­ple who want to talk about fishing, Fish & Game mem­ber­ship is for those who want to pro­tect habi­tat and main­tain, man­age and en­hance fishing and hunt­ing.

“An­glers and hunters have the strong­est of mo­tives to make the right de­ci­sions and peo­ple take great pride in being on their lo­cal Fish & Game Coun­cil. I ad­mire those peo­ple who do it, that’s why I’ve stayed here so long.”

Re­tire­ment means fishing, hunt­ing and rais­ing a few cat­tle but Bryce will still be a voice for change.

“What will be great is being able do one thing at a time,” he said.

Hunt­ing on the shal­low Wain­ono La­goon in the south­ern Can­ter­bury re­gion

Bryce John­son

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