Whitebait a declining delicacy

Species in danger of being fished to extinction

Last updated 08:44 14/08/2014

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Whitebaiters have their nets at the ready ahead of the start of the new season tomorrow.

For Department of Conservation rangers Chris Annandale and Eric Pene, this time of year means early mornings and work at weekends.

They have already responded to a couple of calls about early whitebaiting and have been patrolling fishing sites to check that people are abiding by the Whitebait Fishing Regulations.

Annandale said that without the season, whitebait could be fished to extinction. "People seem to think that whitebait are a never- ending resource, but they are in steady decline. We are losing more of them each year."

Given the chance, whitebait grow into sizeable native fish collectively known as galaxiids, a variety of native fish species that spend six months at sea and then make their way up rivers and streams to spawn.

The whitebait we love to fritter and fry are the young native fish returning to their adult habitat.

Changes to these areas such as removal of forest, draining of wetlands, water removal for out- of-stream use, pollution, introduced pests and destruction of stream-side vegetation are some of the problems that threaten the long-term survival of whitebait species.

The whitebaiting season is yet another threat to the viability of freshwater fish populations.

Concern for the future of both the fish and one of New Zealand's best loved recreational traditions prompted the creation of whitebaiting regulations, which have evolved over the past 100 years.

DOC administers regulations for fishing methods, timing, location and net size to ensure enough young fish get upstream to mature and subsequently create new whitebait.

Regulations include requirements to use only one whitebait net at a time, to stay within 10 metres of the net, and that the net should not exceed more than one- third of the water channel width.

Fishing is permitted between 5am and 8pm only or between 6am and 9pm during daylight saving.

The regulations provide for fines of up to $5000, and DOC will not hesitate to prosecute, Annandale said. Whitebaiters generally observed the regulations and helped to keep the fishery sustainable, he said "Eighty per cent are bloody excellent"

The whitebaiting season in Taranaki lasts until November 30

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