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Hawke's Bay Fish and Game councillors under investigation

Councillors at Hawke's Bay Fish and Game Council are being investigated for possible conflicts of interest and breaches of the Wildlife Act.

An investigation was launched after a complaint was made to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage that some councillors were abusing their position for personal financial gain.

Fish and Game New Zealand hired Auckland lawyer Michael Webb in August to investigate several concerns about the Hawke's Bay council, including high staff turnover, a failure to properly carry out compliance checks, and possible conflicts of interest among some of its councillors over the last five years.

All councillors were being audited but RNZ understood the allegations centre around two councillors: the chairman Bruce Bates and councillor Jeff Niblett.

Jeff Niblett breeds and sells game birds for a living and it was alleged that he is selling captive reared mallard ducks to Ngamatea Station for its commercial hunting operation.

Bruce Bates is a co-owner of Ngamatea Station.

Breeding, selling and releasing mallards on privately-owned land is allowed with a permit, but commercial hunting of them is not allowed under the Wildlife Act.

The audit will investigate the council's policies and procedures in relation to any release of game birds or captive rear mallards, and the release of any game birds or captive rear mallards by anyone who is, or was, a councillor over the last five years.

Bruce Bates declined to comment on the investigation and RNZ has been unable to reach Jeff Niblett for comment.

The commercial hunting of captive reared mallard ducks is not permitted anywhere in the country and it was a controversial subject among hunting enthusiasts.

Fish and Game New Zealand recently surveyed all 12 regional councils about the issue, asking them if they thought commercial hunting of the ducks should be allowed.

All 12, except for the Hawke's Bay council, said it should not be.

RNZ understood the issue of releasing captive reared mallards for commercial hunting has been a source of tension between Fish and Game staff in Hawke's Bay and councillors for several years and several staff left the organisation because of it.

The audit will investigate why these staff left and the impact the high staff turnover has had on the council's performance in carrying out its statutory functions.

Councillors and staff at Hawke's Bay Fish and Game were interviewed in person two weeks ago, and a draft report was due before Christmas.

Ms Sage said she received a complaint about Hawke's Bay Fish and Game Council on 1 July.

The Department of Conservation was assisting Fish and Game with the investigation, she said in a statement.

"It is important that the audits proceed appropriately. For that that reason I will not be making further comment until they are completed."

Fish and Game NZ was also investigating governance and potential conflicts of interest at its North Canterbury and Central South Island councils.
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