White gold proving rare catch in South Canterbury
Whitebait is absent from the menus of Timaru restaurants in what catchers describe as a disappointing season.
Authorities also say whitebaiters they have spoken to have been "mostly" well behaved, with only a couple spoken to for breaking regulations.
The whitebait season runs from August 15 to November 30.
Restaurants contacted by The Timaru Herald said the delicacy was not on the menu yet, with one owner saying it was uncommon not to have been offered any yet.
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Fusion restaurant owner award winning chef Lindsay Bennett said he hadn't been offered any whitebait yet, which was unusual.
"We usually have it in by now," he said.
"It's uncommon not to have it on our menu at this time of the year."
Whitebaiter Bill Begg, of Seadown, said he had "had to keep at it", this season.
"It started off very slowly but it has picked up a bit," Begg said.
"The first seven times I've been out I've got enough for two patties. The eighth time I got five pound. You just have to keep at it."
He said he had spent about 50 hours whitebaiting "just looking at the water, waiting for the whitebait".
Begg had never bought whitebait and enjoyed giving it away to friends and family.
He said early in the season it was about $140 per kg in Auckland.
He said when it got more plentiful, the cost got cheaper.
"It's supply and demand."
He kept a pound of whitebait in the freezer for the off season, he said.
"I always give away whitebait.
"I have about 30 people I give it away to. It's a wee thank you you can give people."
Timaru man Colin Bruce has been whitebaiting at the Opihi River most week days since the season began.
"The season has been disappointing," he said.
"There has been very, very little [whitebait] up the Opihi."
He said he had had "three to four feeds" so far.
"You have to be in the right place at the right time I think."
He has been whitebaiting for more than 50 years.
"I've whitebaited all over."
Department of Conservation Geraldine ranger Stephen Harraway said the season appeared to be an average one.
"Anything could happen though with bigger migration patterns happening from now."
He said rangers had spoken to "one or two" whitebaiters about having too much gear and being more than 10m away from their nets.
"If everybody follow the rules set out that's good."
He asked anyone who saw people breaking regulations to contact the Department of Conservation.
- The Timaru Herald