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Changes to whitebait regulations announced

3 min read

Photo: Simon Watts

The government has announced new rules for whitebait fishing, including a shorter season and changes to the gear allowed, with the regulations to roll out over three seasons.

In an announcement made on 2 July, acting conservation minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the changes to the regulations will improve the sustainability of the threatened species while ensuring that Kiwis can continue the tradition of catching a feed in their local river into the future.

Four of the six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction.

“While fishing pressure is a contributing factor, habitat loss, environmental degradation, impeded fish passage within river systems, loss of spawning sites and introduced fish species are also impacting whitebait numbers,” Verrall said.

Whitebait regulations were last reviewed in 1990s and Verrall said that changes were long overdue.

“We want to ensure the whitebait fishery survives and thrives, for all New Zealanders, while maintaining long-held traditions and encouraging responsible fishing practices.”

She added that the planned changes fit the Government’s manifesto commitment to protect, preserve, and restore New Zealand’s national heritage and biodiversity.

Read more: Huge public support for better whitebait management options

Read more: Habitat and rivers: Key to halting whitebait decline

“The immediate impact on the majority of fishers will be minimal. People will still be using the same gear and fishing in the same places when the season opens.

“The changes that are being made will better align practices nationwide, improve the long-term sustainability of the fishery and support recreational, low volume fishers. They do not affect customary fishing rights.

“Two years of engagement on improving whitebait management, including the consultation on regulatory changes, has shown how passionate New Zealanders are about whitebait and the whitebait fishery.”

Verrall added that the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been asked to gather more evidence about the state of whitebait fishery, including “further monitoring, scientific assessment and economic analysis. Better information is essential to ensure the whitebait management programme is effective and any need for further changes to the programme or regulations are identified.”

Changes will be phased in over three seasons.

Changes for 2021 whitebait season:

  • Fishing will be prohibited within 20 metres of structures such as weirs and groynes where fish congregate.
  • Screens will be the only lawful diversion device and limited to three-metre maximum length.
  • The rule that only one net can be used when fishing from a stand, will be extended to all of New Zealand.
  • The maximum incursion of fishing gear (excluding stands) into a waterway, will be one-quarter of its width, nationwide.
  • The minimum fixed distance between fixed fishing gear (not stands) will be 20 metres.
  • Fishing can only occur in estuaries and near river mouths nationwide. This is already the case on the West Coast.
  • More whitebait refuges in waterbodies that flow out of Abel Tasman and Fiordland national parks will help to protect whitebait populations, similar to whitebait refuges already in place on the West Coast.
  • The proposal is to extend the current exclusion in place from Yates Point to Puysegur Point, to also include the South Coast as far as Waitutu River mouth.  Martins Bay (even though it is within Fiordland National Park) is not being proposed as a refuge.

Changes for 2022 whitebait season:

  • The season to shorten to 1 Sept – 30 October for all New Zealand

Changes for 2023 whitebait season:

  • Overall length limit for fishing gear of six metres for all New Zealand


3 thoughts on “Changes to whitebait regulations announced

  1. I have been fishing for whitebait on and off for 60 years but the last fifteen years I have fished every year ,for pleasure and catching enough for our family and elderly friends that can’t fish now only taking what we need and would like to see the selling of bait stopped unless it is controlled like the west coast of the South island and they pay tax on it.
    I fish mainly in the Catlins where I was born and at Taieri Mouth , in the last ten years l have not seen a Doc person to talk to and would welcome more Doc Rangers patrolling during the season and talking to us as we can only help Doc to control the fishery for all. Over the last 2 seasons I have called the Dunedin office asking for some Doc Rangers to come down and sort out the people that are using ILEGAL Nets and was told they were short of staff and foremost to approach them as they are nasty people !!!
    The new regs coming in are fine I like the shortened season as well .I have never needed the longer season to catch a few feeds..
    I look forward to meeting Doc Rangers and talk on the river bank as I am sure we can help you.
    Cheers cliff

  2. The easiest way to save white bait is to stop the sale of it for cash. Make people buy a qouter if they are going to sell it. This will stop at least 50% of people fishing for them.

  3. I have been fishing for whitebait for more than 60 years here in Greymouth and the enjoyment I get from this pastime is immense. I have a few thoughts on the conservation of the species of my own that would be quite easy to implement.
    1 the same length of season nationwide though I would like to see September 14 to November 14
    2 Ban traps in all nets this would mean a person would have to empty their net after each capture therefore allowing fish to pass by
    3 Ban sock nets the rapists of the river. They are only there for lazy fishermen.
    4 Back pegs on all rivers maximum 2 kilometres from the mouth
    5 Scoop nets no more than 2 metres deep Set nets no more than 1 metre deep
    6 Fisherman should not be allowed to paint natural features (rocks) to aid the spotting of whitebait but manually deployed spotters may be used but not flotation devices to scare the whitebait towards the bank of the river
    I don’t believe we need to stop the sale of whitebait as especially here on the Coast it is a signature dish for tourists in our eating places and should remain though I do recognise that some people are making a good income without paying taxes, so places that serve whitebait should need to prove the origin of that catch like other fish outlets. The other thing that needs sorting is the length of screens that can be used with set nets.
    I believe these steps would be easy to implement with very little angst though I realise the banning of sock nets will be a bone of contention for commercial fishers

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