Nearly 8000 individuals made a submission calling for the introduction of a catch limit, fishing licence, and data collection to the whitebait fishery through a Forest & Bird online submission page.
“Four of the native freshwater fish caught as whitebait are in decline and threatened with extinction. It’s time to put our fish first,” said Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Tom Kay.
“The public are extremely engaged in this issue. New Zealanders love our native fish and want to protect them with some simple rules.”
Department of Conservation’s (DOC) consultation on whitebait management closed on 16 March 2020. In a DOC survey last year, nearly 80% of respondents said they would like to see a catch limit and 60% said they would support a fishing licence.
Forest & Bird says these options were excluded from the management options being consulted on.
“Why these options aren’t in the proposed changes makes no sense. All other species commercially fished have a catch limit. Why should whitebait be any different? We are talking about endangered native fish, some of which are found nowhere else in the world,” said Kay.
“We’re hoping this public outpouring of love for our native fish will give the Department of Conservation the courage to recommend the introduction of a catch limit, licence, and better data gathering to the Minister. These are the basic tools for running a commercial fishery.
“Whitebait are an important part of the cultural fabric of New Zealand.
“There’s no question we also need to rebuild damaged habitat for whitebait fish to grow up into thriving adult populations. But in the meantime, we need some basic fishing rules to prevent overfishing.
“Our whitebait fishery is at breaking point. Continuing to catch and sell these threatened species without a limit or data collection will be the final nail in the coffin.”
“We need native freshwater fish populations to be healthy throughout their habitats if we want whitebait fishing to be sustainable. Our native fish need some reasonable limits on whitebaiting in order to recover.”
The Conservation status of New Zealand freshwater fishes 2017 lists the threat status of New Zealand’s freshwater fish; 76% of all native freshwater fish are listed as threatened or at risk of extinction.
Fish & Bird says the six native fish in the whitebait catch are: kōaro (at risk – declining), shortjaw kōkopu (threatened – nationally vulnerable), banded kōkopu (doing okay), giant kōkopu (at risk – declining), īnanga (at risk – declining), and common smelt (doing okay).
DOC is currently reviewing all the submissions received during the consultation period. The submissions will inform their final recommendations to the minister of conservation, who, along with the cabinet, will then decide on the changes to the whitebait management that should be progressed.