Class swapped for school of whitebait

Last updated 05:00 16/08/2012

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A father and son whitebaiting team hope throwing back their first catch will appease the fishing gods and ensure a bountiful haul over the coming season.

Joshua Cooper-Taepa, 11, and dad Pera Taepa spent the first day of the new season chasing the delicacy at Waimea Stream near Waikanae Beach with a dozen other whitebaiters.

Despite throwing back their first catch yesterday, the pair came away with enough for two fritters, which they will cook up as an offering to Kapanui School deputy principal John Brunton, who let Joshua spend a "special day" off with his dad.

Mr Taepa and Joshua are whitebaiting novices, having taken up the nets for the first time last year, but are eager to master the art.

Mr Taepa said he was "ever hopeful" the season would be a fruitful one. But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the pastime.

Massey University freshwater scientist Mike Joy hopes Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson will ban whitebaiting outright, given declining numbers.

Failing a ban, he would like to see the threatened native species given the same protection as introduced trout. Trout fishing requires a licence and the catch cannot be sold commercially.

Four of five whitebait species were as threatened as wood pigeons, he said.

"No-one would eat a wood pigeon fritter, but whitebait have the same threat ranking."

On most of mainland New Zealand, the whitebait season runs till November 30, with fishing restricted from 5am to 8pm, or 6am to 9pm during daylight saving.

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- The Dominion Post

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