Kahawai licence – Do I need a licence when fishing at a river mouth?
Fish & Game are aware that there is some confusion out there among anglers in regard to whether or not they require a sports fishing licence to target kahawai at river mouths. You don’t need a kahawai licence, there is no such thing, but you might need a Fish & Game Sports Fishing Licence.
The legal position is: If you are fishing in freshwater and using gear that could reasonably be expected to catch sports fish (Trout, Salmon and Perch) you need a valid sports fish licence. Freshwater is defined in the Conservation Act 1987 as any river, stream, lake, pond, lagoon, wetland or any other body whether naturally occurring or man-made. Freshwater also includes the mouths of rivers and 500m along the seashore from where the river meets the sea at low tide).
So if you are apprehended at a river mouth fishing with gear that could likely capture sports fish (bearing in mind salmon will take large silver kahawai lures), there is a legal requirement for you (not Fish & Game as it is a strict liability offence) to demonstrate to a judge that the gear you were using was not likely to capture a sports fish such as a salmon.
Pretty black and white really and to avoid any confusion Fish and Game could elect to enforce this regulation all year round, but we don’t want to stop people from kahawai fishing. Most regions, therefore, take a middle ground approach of tailoring enforcement of this rule to the locations and time of year at river mouths when sports fish could reasonably be expected to be caught as by-catch.
By way of example in the Nelson/Marlborough region, different river mouths have different enforcement effort. The Clarence river mouth, for example, has active enforcement throughout the salmon season (1st Dec-30th April), and anglers without a licence wishing to fish for kahawai on spinning or fly gear must fish 500 metres away along the beach during this period. Signage to this effect has been erected at the Clarence. The high level of enforcement here is due to the fact that fishing for kahawai with spinning or fly gear at the mouth during this period has a high likelihood of catching a salmon. Bait fishing for kahawai (using bait such as pilchard/squid pieces) is acceptable here, however, as it is in all our other river mouths. The Motueka River mouth by contrast, due to the lack of a salmon fishery, is not enforced to the same degree. However, there is still the requirement of unlicenced anglers to immediate release unharmed any sports fish accidentally hooked.
So….clear as mud aye! Our best advice to anglers wishing to target river mouth kahawai without a valid sports fishing licence, is to use a surfcaster with bait, or if you wish to use large saltwater flies or kahawai lures, contact your local Fish & Game office first to see what they define as ‘gear capable of catching sports fish’ for that river mouth. Or as a 3rd option consider buying a valid sports fishing licence to remove all uncertainty – for the price of fuel for one reasonable length boat fishing trip, you get access to an entire year of fishing in some of the best freshwater fisheries anywhere in the world, throughout the entire country (excluding Taupo). And a good proportion of this licence fee then goes back into Fish & Game trying to keep clean swimmable water within our rivers, a huge task at present.
In short, if you intend to fish for kahawai at river mouths with bait you are ok. If you want to fish for kahawai with spinners (ticers and the like) you are safer to purchase a Fish & Game Sports Fishing Licence. That way you will have a kahawai licence too! Fish & Game licences and pricing options.