The NZ Sport Fishing Council is a National Body consisting of 56 affiliated clubs from the bottom of the South Island to the Far North. It's origins stem back to the very beginning of sports gamefishing when New Zealand was popularised as a great place to pursue the activity by Zane Grey in the early 1920s who found abundant billfish and large sharks within easy reach of the pleasure boats of the times. This led to the formation of several clubs over the next 30 years to enable fishers to collect records and share in the companionship of fellow members with similar interests. There was fierce rivalry between the clubs on records held, areas fished and how best to administer the sport. There was an early attempt to form a national federation in 1940 but unfortunately the war years and past rivalry called a premature halt to the process.
See Image: The American angler Zane Grey (right) with his fishing companion Captain Laurie Mitchell (left) and their world record catch of ten striped marlin taken in one day in 1926 at the Bay of Islands. This first visit of Grey's put the New Zealand fishing grounds well and truly on the world game fishing map. In the foreground are their boat men (skippers), Leon Warne and Bill Hodgson (Marlin) and Francis Arlidge and Peter Williams (Alma G). A couple of good kingfish grace the end poles.
This situation continued until 1956 when Governor General, Lord Norrie, who was a very keen fisherman gifted a trophy to the sport. This re-ignited the idea of a national body being formed to administer the sport. The NZ Big Game Fishing Council was officially formed on the 3 May 1957 and the trophy donated then became the Lord Norrie cup that is awarded annually to the angler catching the heaviest striped marlin of the season. There were 5 foundation member clubs whose combined records were adopted into NZ records. The clubs were Whangaroa, Bay of Islands, Whangarei, Mercury Bay and Tauranga. Three of those original records still stand today. The oldest dating back to 1928 a 305kg Swordfish caught on 60kg line.
Growth was initially slow and the next 20 years saw only another 5 clubs affiliating to the council. As the sport became more accessible by the increasing use of trailer boats and exploring new areas around NZ from the late 70s onwards saw a huge increase in membership. Now we have an average 3-4 new clubs joining every year and combined membership of over 35,000 fishers.
The role the Council has played for its members has changed considerably since its formation. Initially and still an important feature, was collating records and setting standards to ensure fishers have a consistent level to achieve recognition of their catches. The Council then introduced a yearly national fishing contest (The Nationals) for all its members to contest and to determine champion anglers, team and clubs. A week long contest held in February, this event now attracts 1,500 anglers. The Nationals are unique in that contestants are able to fish anywhere in NZ and report to their own club who co-ordinate catches through the Council secretary. This feat is only possible through good administration and standard setting for every club to which they abide. Anglers compete for trophies only and no other prizes are awarded.
The early 80s saw a rapid drop off in marlin catches and the Council became more active in management and conservation of their target fish. This led to a government moratorium on commercial fishers taking Billfish that now stands as a permanent regulation. The successful introduction of a commercial ban on the taking of marlin required the Council to introduce and promote tagging and releasing of marlin and sharks with a target of at least 50% release by our anglers. This supported conservation and also provides valuable research data about the fish themselves to which much is still conjecture. This tagging program has been increased and now includes Kingfish and very recently Tunas. Council representatives frequently attend working groups on fisheries management and make numerous government submissions during the year in support of our member's wishes to enhance their fishing.
The Council also saw a need for more targeted research to assist in its claims and justifications to Government on our more sought after fish. While Government lobbying for new and continuing fisheries research is always being pursued there are specific studies that will have the most benefit to us and are unlikely to be funded by the crown. To cater for this the Council formed the NZ Marine Research Foundation. Officially launched in 1999 the Trust has already financed some very noteworthy projects for Kingfish and Striped Marlin, which are in the opinion of your Council the two most important fish to gamefishing in New Zealand.