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Plans for the future of whitebaiting announced

3 min read

The new whitebaiting season dates were first announced in June 2021 as part of a three-year rollout of changes to whitebaiting regulations. Photo: Simon Watts

Standardised rules for the whitebait fishery in New Zealand, creating refuges in waterways, and phasing out the export of whitebait are some of the plans proposed to improve management of whitebait across New Zealand.

In a proposal released on 14 January, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said that with several whitebait species in decline, the need for action a healthy whitebait fishery “has never been greater”.

Four of the six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction – giant kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, kōaro, and īnanga.

“Whitebait are a cherished part of Kiwi culture. They are taonga to iwi and for some New Zealanders, fishing for whitebait is an annual tradition. These proposals aim to ensure whitebait numbers flourish now and for future generations,” the minister said.

“Whitebait face significant pressures such as degraded habitats, poor water quality, obstacles to fish passage, and heavy fishing pressure in some areas. These pressures must be addressed if we want thriving, healthy native fish and whitebait populations.”

The discussion document is based on feedback from the public, iwi, and whitebait experts and the proposals aim to:

  • Standardise the rules for whitebaiting across New Zealand, including the timing of the fishing season and establishing upstream limits on whitebait fishing to ensure healthy whitebait stocks. (Many of these proposed changes are based on the more comprehensive controls on whitebaiting which currently apply on the South Island’s West Coast).
  • Create refuges in some waterways or reaches of waterways (where whitebait fishing is excluded) to provide safe havens for the native fish species in the whitebait catch to help improve their populations.
  • Increase the equity of whitebait catching opportunities.
  • Phase out the export of whitebait

No ban on commercial whitebait sale

Photo: Simon Watts

The minister added that there are no plans to ban the commercial sale of whitebait or introduce a licensing system for recreational fisheres within New Zealand. None of the proposed changes affect customary fishing rights.

“I want to reassure whitebaiters that the changes aim to provide for a healthy whitebait fishery in New Zealand. Many of the proposed changes to the whitebaiting regulations are based on regulations which already apply on the South Island’s West Coast,” the minister added.

“We need to make changes if we want whitebaiting to continue and to maintain a healthy fishery long term. We all need to do our part to improve how we look after these precious native fish. I don’t want any more native fish species to follow the grayling and become extinct.”

People can provide feedback on the whitebait management proposals over the next six weeks, either by written comments online or by e-mail.

A series of 21 public discussions will be held around New Zealand to answer questions on the proposals. Consultation closes on 2 March 2020.

Public submissions will be analysed and considered by the Department of Conservation who will then provide recommendations to the Minister of Conservation later in 2020.

To provide feedback and for more details of the public consultation meetings, visit doc.govt.nz.

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