Whitebait patrols to save declining delicacy

RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 09:45 14/08/2014
whitebait
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

NET READY: A whitebait fisherman working away on the Waikato River, between Tuakau and Port Waikato, in 2010.

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Waikato whitebaiters have their nets at the ready ahead of the beginning of the new season tomorrow.

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

Already they have responded to a couple of calls about early fishers 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," she said.

"We are losing more of them each year."

Given the chance, whitebait grow into sizeable native fish such as giant kokopu, shortjaw kokopu, banded kokopu, koaro and inanga, 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 issues 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 creation of whitebaiting regulations, which have evolved over the past century.

DOC administers regulations regarding 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 only use 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 won't hesitate to prosecute, Annandale said.

Annandale said whitebaiters generally observed the regulations and helped to keep the fishery sustainable.

"Eighty per cent are bloody excellent"

The whitebaiting season in the Waikato lasts until November 30.

rachel.thomas@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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