13 May 2017

DOC urged to act on threatened whitebait

4:00 pm on 13 May 2017

Whitebaiters could face catch limits, tougher enforcement and fishing permits amid concern over the future of the native species.

Regulations around whitebaiting have not changed since the mid-1990s, despite four out of the five whitebait species having 'threatened' status.

Whitebait in egg.

Whitebait Photo: Kennedy Warne

The Conservation Authority, which provides strategic policy advice to the Department of Conservation (DOC), has asked the department to consider what could be done to protect the species.

Chair Warren Parker said the authority had received feedback from the public and conservation boards that more needed to be done to protect the fish.

"The Conservation Authority was aware that there were concerns about the sustainability of current whitebait catches and there was a lack of information about the size of catches and what was happening in the rivers," Dr Parker said.

It had asked DOC to look into whether regulation may be required, although that was not necessarily the first step, Dr Parker said.

Mike Hickford, a research associate in marine ecology at the University of Canterbury, said introducing catch limits for whitebait would be a more sustainable approach.

University of Canterbuy research associate in marine ecology

University of Canterbury research associate in marine ecology Mick Hickford. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

"If you keep fishing them down ... then at some point it may be that we just don't have enough coming back into the river to actually make sure that there are at least two [whitebait], a male and a female left in that river to actually lay some eggs," Mr Hickford said.

West Coast White Baiters Association president Des McEnaney said the coast was the only region that had tougher whitebaiting regulations.

Their season runs from September to mid-November - a month shorter than the rest of New Zealand.

Mr McEnaney wanted to see a consistent, nationwide approach.

"Conservation of the whitebait species is a New Zealand-wide issue," he said.

"We need to look in terms of having one set of regulations, that removes the confusion, that does protect the species and does protect the whitebaiters."

The authority has also asked DOC to investigate whether Ministry for Primary Industry fishing officers could be brought in to ensure compliance with the current rules.

Dr Hickford said he would support that, as DOC did not have the resources to enforce regulations itself.

Doc was expected to report back on progress next month.

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