Whitebait project pulls in funding

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 10/12/2012

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A five-year project aimed at restoring whitebait habitat in the lower Waikato River has netted a $1.5 million cash boost from the Waikato River Authority.

The authority has announced $4.98 million in funding for projects to restore the Waikato River.

Thirty projects have been earmarked as part of the authority's second funding round.

The Niwa-led project to restore whitebait habitat has also attracted $1.5m from other co-funders.

Niwa freshwater fish scientist Cindy Baker said the project would identify where whitebait had been found historically and seek to restore those habitats.

Scientists would aim to identify and remove barriers to whitebait migration.

"One of the indicators iwi use to signify the health of the Waikato River is an abundance of whitebait," Dr Baker said. "The Waikato as a catchment lends itself to producing whitebait habitat. So when there is an abundance of that species it would signify you've got some good quality habitats for fish."

Dr Baker said there was anecdotal evidence whitebait populations had declined over time but it was difficult to measure the degree of the decline.

Other significant grants include $250,000 earmarked for growing and planting native plants in the river catchment.

The work will be done by schools in the catchment.

Authority co-chairman John Luxton said there had been an increase in the level of co-funding incorporated in projects, with the authority achieving 75 cents of co-funding for every dollar granted.

"This is an important element which enables the river authority's funds to go further and ultimately to have a greater positive impact on the river," he said.

Meanwhile, Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said she was "very disappointed" after councillors this week opted not to endorse the next step in the development of a Waikato River Plan for the city.

In a split vote, councillors referred the matter back to a workshop in the new year.

A staff report recommended the council endorse a terms of reference to establish a Waikato River leadership group to recommend a plan for the 16kn stretch of river within the city's boundary. The report also recommended the leadership group be supported by a Waikato River advisory panel of community representatives, "subject matter experts" and iwi.

Ms Hardaker dismissed concerns the two tiered leadership group and advisory panel structure was too complicated or that councillors might not be involved in the process.

"The most important piece of work the people of Hamilton have been asking for over many, many years is a plan for the river and yet again that plan is delayed.

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"It's about time Hamilton got on with this, but instead more delay means Hamiltonians are yet again missing out on the great opportunities our river has to offer."

- Waikato Times

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