The 2013 Captain Morgan Snapper Bonanza will start on Ninety Mile Beach on Tuesday, February 26, but there is no guarantee that there will be another one next year.
The five-day tournament, successor of the 90 Mile Beach Snapper Classic established by Tony Brljevich more than 30 years ago, is one of several competitions and expos that came under Department of Internal Affairs scrutiny last year for allegedly breaching the Gambling Act 2003, in terms of awarding spot prizes worth more than $500. That officially made the tournament a raffle, for which a licence was needed.
The organisers have since formed an incorporated society to comply with the regulations, but the department is still not happy. On Monday, it advised the organisers that no compliance action would be taken if they wished to proceed with this year's tournament unlicensed, but another application that met all licensing requirements would be needed in the future.
The problems included that two of the society's officers and directors of Snapper Bonanza Ltd were one and the same (David Collard and John Stewart), and that because licences were issued to societies to raise money for authorised purposes, only "actual, reasonable and necessary" costs may be incurred.
The department was concerned that the society rules allowed for the contracting with a third party to conduct a fishing competition, while some costs have been queried as not "actual, reasonable or necessary," and the total prize value on the ticket differed from advertising documentation - which the society disputes. All prizes must be listed on the ticket.
"Everything's fine for this year," Mr Collard said.
"The 2013 tournament will start on February 26 and all the prizes will be won. It could be a different story next year though."
The issues would need to be sorted out by no later than May, he added. Organising the tournament was a year-long job, and the contest would be in jeopardy if the issues were not resolved by then.
"I have to say, I'm a little apprehensive," Mr Collard said, "but the contest has been running for 35 years, with no change to the format.
"We've paid tax, we've paid GST, and we've formed a society to disburse any surplus revenue, if there is any, to worthy causes after each competition, but that doesn't seem to be good enough.
"We recognised that this community was in danger of losing an important event when the Snapper Classic fell over, and that there would be no getting it back if someone didn't do something. Financially, our goal has never been more than to keep the contest going and to cover the cost of the time we put into organising it. We are not doing this to fill our own pockets, or anyone else's."
Legal advice had supported the rationale of the society including people with experience of running the tournament, and some progress had been made. The department had accepted the cost of having surf rescue teams on the beach throughout the contest, initially regarded as excessive, conceding that competitors' safety was non-negotiable, but the problem as Mr Collard saw it was that people with no knowledge of fishing competitions were trying to impose ridiculous rules.
The society's lawyer had pointed out to Internal Affairs that the proposed rules were submitted in October last year. Amendments were made on November 7 and the society was then incorporated.
"When all this started, they didn't even know this was a five-day contest," Mr Stewart said.
"They don't understand that it takes us all year to organise it, and 10 days full-time before, during and after the competition.
"There's a lot that they don't seem to know, but we'll have to see how it pans out over the next few months."