The slow start whitebaiters are experiencing to the 2010 season shows the impact various environmental challenges are having on the fragile fishery, the Green Party said today.
"New Zealanders love the whitebaiting tradition - and the whitebait fritter - but if we want our kids to be able to enjoy them in the future we need to protect the little fish," Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman said.
Dr Norman was commenting on reports of a slow start to the 2010 whitebait season in various regions including Taranaki, Wellington, and Southland. Many keen whitebaiters reported catching only a handful of fish or none at all since the season opened on Sunday.
"Whitebait are the young of a variety of endangered native fish which spend six months at sea and then make their way up our rivers," Dr Norman said.
"Their spawning habitat is under threat from many sources: pollution, wetland drainage, water taken out of streams for irrigation and other uses, introduced pests, and the destruction of stream-side vegetation.
"Many regions where whitebaiting is popular, including Taranaki, the West Coast, and Southland, have seen massive dairy conversions in recent years.
"Effluent and nutrient pollution from these farms has a massive impact on water quality and can seriously damage whitebait habitat.
"Small streams are particularly important for whitebait spawning, and these are more likely to be unfenced, and unplanted. It is not unusual to see cattle walking through the same streams where whitebait attempt to breed.
"The fact that very few whitebait have been caught at the start of the season shows that these threats are having a real impact.
"If we want to protect the great kiwi tradition of whitebaiting we need action from farmers, councils and the Government to protect their habitat from livestock and industry.
"Voluntary measures like the Clean Streams Accord aren't working - it's time for regulation to protect our waterways and our whitebait from excess effluent," Dr Norman said.
The whitebait runs until the end of November. It is now open around the country except on the West Coast where it opens on 1 September.