Whitebaiting must be banned for a season if the endangered fritter-friendly fish is to survive says Mokau's baiting-butcher Graham Putt.
Since the season opened eight weeks ago, catches around the province have been enough to keep the recreational fishermen happy but the big shoals have not come on the usually productive Mokau River.
"We haven't had any whitebait. It's terrible," said Mr Putt, who has been selling whitebait from his small Mokau butchery for long enough to know the good from the bad.
August and September were usually bumper months he said, with the runs tailing off throughout October and November.
"I honestly think they have to close it off for a season. We won't have any whitebait if we don't. That's my opinion," he said.
Closing the rivers to fishermen would cost some commercial operators thousands of dollars in earnings with whitebait retailing for a wallet-emptying $140 a kg.
It would also put an end to one of the country's favourite types of fritters, for one year at least.
But Conservation Department ranger Bryan Williams said a closed season would not work as it could never be policed.
"If people are concerned about the whitebait then people, within themselves, should restrict their catch," he said.
While there was no doubt whitebait were in decline, he said the drop in number of "big catches" could be explained by the increasing number of people chasing the flighty fingerlings.
Mr Williams said he had seen promising work in South Taranaki where farmers were restoring whitebait habitat, but such efforts could take 15 years or more to bear measurable results.
"There are so many factors affecting the season.
"The weather conditions have a huge impact on the amount of whitebait in the rivers. And with climate change, who knows, it could be having an effect too," he said.
Taranaki's whitebait season ends on November 30.
Though a number of species classed as whitebait are in decline, there are no limits on how many a person can catch.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Should ratepayers fork out for increased security to keep vandals at bay in Pukekura Park?Related story: Cameras set to catch vandals