Slower whitebait season at an end

The whitebait season finished for another year in Southland last week, with the catch down by about 40 per cent on recent seasons.

Three and a half months after the whitebait season opened on August 15, fishermen laid out their nets for the final time in all areas of New Zealand except the West Coast of the South Island and the Chatham Islands.

Conservation Department compliance and enforcement co-ordinator Kelwyn Osborn said fishermen had told him the catch was down about 40 per cent from the average in previous years.

"Many fishermen said it was a very slow season." he said.

Mr Osborne also said the department had prosecuted several more cases for breaches of regulations compared to previous seasons.

"It was a bad start to the season for people breaking the rules but as the season wore on we found less fishermen doing the wrong thing," he said.

The department had prosecuted seven people in the courts, with two cases continuing. Breaches included fishing near a culvert or confluence, nets exceeding more than one-third of the water channel width, nets exceeding six metres in length and fishermen not remaining within 10m of their nets, Mr Osborn said.

"Compliance officers spoke to hundreds of whitebaiters during the season, so it is still only a few doing the wrong thing."

On the Mataura yesterday, experienced whitebaiter Harry Robinson said his catch was down from nearly 250 pounds last year to 100lbs this season.

"We were spoilt last year but we still managed to get a few patties this year."

A dry winter resulted in a low river at the start of the season and flooding later in the year made whitebaiting unpredictable, he said.

Also on the Mataura, Brett Pearce said it had been an inconsistent season compared to last year but the family still got a feed. "Last year was a season that was out of the box, so you can't have it that way all the time."

Mr Pearce said the low river at the start of the season had driven the whitebait upstream.

"The fishermen upstream didn't do too badly. I suppose it was their turn this season."

Mr Pearce's wife, Margaret, said she would be seeing a lot more of her husband at the weekends.

"He will be at home a bit more. During the season he is away for most of the weekend but I don't mind as long as he doesn't drag me along," she said.

The Southland Times