Leading up to whitebaiting season, the Department of Conservation is reminding people that following the fishing rules will help protect whitebait species alongside other work to improve their long-term prospects.
The whitebaiting season runs from 15 August until 30 November for all New Zealand except the West Coast of the South Island, where it runs from 1 September to 14 November.
Whitebaiting is permitted in Auckland during Alert Level 3 provided whitebaiters fish only locally, keep 2 metres from other river users and don’t use motorised vehicles to get to their fishing spot.
They must also comply with all the current whitebait regulations, including fishing from the banks of rivers or water’s edge and do not enter the water or use a boat to fish.
At Alert Level 2 whitebaiting is permitted provided whitebaiters maintain 2 metre physical distancing while complying with the fishing rules
Whitebait are juveniles of six species of native fish: giant kōkopu, banded kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, inanga, kōaro and common smelt. Whitebait can grow into adults ranging from 10 to 60 centimetres long.
DOC Freshwater manager Elizabeth Heeg says that unfortunately, four of the six whitebait species are classified as either threatened or at risk of extinction.
“DOC has worked together with New Zealanders since 2018 on ways to restore whitebait where they have declined, and what’s needed for a sustainable whitebait fishery.
“Most recently, we consulted on proposals to improve whitebait management, receiving more than 11,500 submissions. The submissions provided DOC with additional information that will inform future decisions and showed how passionate New Zealanders are about whitebait.
DOC will continue its non-regulatory work on whitebait. Due to the limited time between now and the 2020 General Election there won’t be Cabinet decisions on any changes to whitebaiting regulations during this Government term.
Elizabeth Heeg says the Action for Healthy Waterways package, managed by the Ministry for the Environment, and Jobs for Nature will improve freshwater habitats nationwide, including habitats used by whitebait.
“We’re also progressing work under Biodiversity ’18 funding including improved monitoring of shortjaw kōkopu and īnanga, and conservation and restoration work in priority catchments around New Zealand.
“People can help whitebait species by fencing off spawning and adult habitat, enhancing habitat by planting and reducing pollutants entering waterways, and ensuring unimpeded fish passage upstream and downstream.
“You can contact your local DOC or Regional Council office if you see overhanging culverts or other barriers that stop whitebait migrating,” Elizabeth Heeg says.
During the season, whitebaiting is permitted between 5am and 8pm or between 6am and 9pm when daylight saving starts.
DOC administers whitebaiting regulations that cover methods of fishing, location of whitebaiting sites, legal fishing times and net size.
Illegal whitebaiting carries a maximum fine of $5000 and whitebaiting equipment can be seized. DOC will patrol whitebaiting sites and talk to whitebaiters throughout the season to ensure people are complying with the regulations.
One change whitebaiters may notice this season is that while the regulations remain the same, from September people may be fined if they break rules on conservation land, in marine reserves and in relation to protected species. For whitebaiting, this may apply to people breaking rules such as using illegal gear or methods.
Infringement fines are a new tool under the Conservation (Infringement Systems) Act 2018 giving DOC the option to use infringement notices with an associated fine, along with its existing tools of prosecution and warning letters.
An infringement notice sends a stronger deterrent message than a warning but does not result in a criminal conviction for the offender. Infringement fines range from $200 to $800.
Find whitebait regulation pamphlets online, as well as at DOC offices and sporting shops.