Costly end to failed bid for access

Fish and Game New Zealand could be stung with a six-figure legal bill after a failed bid to get legal access to Crown pastoral lease land.

The two respondents to the High Court action instigated by Fish and Game, the High Country Accord, representing pastoral lessees, and their landlord, Land Information New Zealand (Linz), have both said they are seeking reimbursement of their costs.

The High Country Accord has said the case cost it $250,000, while Linz would not reveal its costs or how much it was seeking from the action heard by the High Court in Wellington.

"The Crown is seeking agreement on costs with Fish and Game," the department's manager of Crown property and investment, Brian Usherwood, said in a statement.

These costs will be in addition to the $60,000 Fish and Game spent taking the case, which it lost and which the organisation's spokesman, Ric Cullinane, confirmed it would not appeal.

Mr Cullinane said the $60,000 it spent was equivalent to 50c for every fishing and hunting licence-holder and the effect of any additional costs awarded against the body was pure speculation.

"It depends on the success and the quantum of any success," he said in an interview.

A full-season fishing licence is $105 and a full-season hunting licence $80.

The organisation's website says Fish and Game has an annual budget of $6 million and sold 123,000 fishing and 34,500 hunting licences a year.

Mr Cullinane said Fish and Game believed a thesis by Lincoln University Fulbright Scholar Ann Brower on the subject of the legal rights of pastoral leases was compelling and worthy of seeking a declarity judgement.

That thesis said pastoral lessees had rights to pasture only and not exclusive possession, and Fish and Game sought a ruling that would have allowed members "responsible and respectful access" to pastoral lease properties.

The Crown Law Office had already published an opinion counter to Dr Brower and supporting the view that pastoral lessees had exclusive possession.

Mr Cullinane said Fish and Game took the action to enhance hunting and fishing access, saying some pastoral lessees restricted access to guides only, yet water, fish and game were not attached to a property's title.

The court action had provoked plenty of feedback from members, he said, opinion being evenly split between those opposed to the governing body's actions and those supportive.

Some said the action had angered landowners and endangered existing access agreements they had with farmers.

The failed court action also provoked a stinging attack from Agriculture Minister David Carter, who said it raised questions about Fish and Game's direction and leadership and its use of licensing fees.

"I am concerned this divisive action was taken when there was no foundation for Fish and Game's claim for greater public access to high-country stations."

The website says Fish and Game New Zealand and its 12 councils are public entities established under the Conservation Act 1987 which report to the Minister of Conservation but are not funded by taxpayers.

 

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