By Anusha Bradley of RNZ
The long-standing chairman of Hawke's Bay Fish and Game (HBFG) Council has been asked to step down after an audit raised "serious concerns" about the organisation's governance.
An investigation was launched last year after a complaint was made to Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.
The findings detailed in a draft audit report prompted New Zealand Fish and Game chair Lindsay Lyons to write to Bruce Bates inviting him to step down from his role as chairman and councillor.
But in response to that letter Bates said he saw no reason to do so.
"Your letter requests that I resign as chair and councillor of the HBFG council.
"I am an elected representative of the licence holders of Hawke's Bay and believe I continue to fully and properly discharge my obligations to those who elected me to the council," Bates wrote to Lindsay Lyons on August 19.
Bruce Bates declined to speak to RNZ about the audit, saying it was still a confidential report. He would discuss it once it was made public, he said.
In a statement, Lyons said the issues raised in the report were serious enough that the New Zealand Fish and Game Council had written to the HBFG Council with a list of recommendations that they must give due consideration to.
"We are following a process that will provide the best result for anglers and hunters in the Hawke's Bay," he said.
The minister said she expected all members of Fish and Game councils to carry out their statutory functions under the Conservation Act with a high level of professionalism and integrity.
"I have seen the audit report on the Hawke's Bay Fish and Game Council which was commissioned by the NZ Fish and Game Council. It raises serious issues around governance. I have sought advice from the Department of Conservation about the issues raised. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time," Sage said in a statement to RNZ.
The conservation minister has the power to remove elected members of Fish and Game Councils, which run as semi-autonomous organisations, but it has never been used before.
The Hawke's Bay audit is the third audit of a Fish and Game council in the last 12 months, following governance and conflict of interest issues at North Canterbury Fish and Game and Central South Canterbury Fish and Game.
National's Conservation spokesperson Sarah Dowie said the fact a quarter of Fish and Game councils were found to have issues was a worry.
The conservation minister had an obligation to ensure governance practices were being held to the highest standards and it may be time for a review, she said.
"I'm all for hunters and fishers managing their own resources but they do need to have confidence in the governance system of Fish and Game, especially regionally."
RNZ understands a shake-up of the powers and organisation of Fish and Game councils could be in the wings to address issues raised in the audits.