Plans to protect the future of whitebaiting announced

With several native whitebait species in decline the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage has today released proposals to standardise and improve management of whitebait across New Zealand.

“The need for action for a healthy whitebait fishery has never been greater,” Eugenie Sage said.  “Four of the six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction – giant kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, kōaro and īnanga," said Eugenie Sage.

“Whitebait are a cherished part of Kiwi culture. They are taonga to iwi and for some New Zealanders, fishing for whitebait is an annual tradition. These proposals aim to ensure whitebait numbers flourish now, and for future generations.

“Whitebait face significant pressures such as degraded habitats, poor water quality, obstacles to fish passage and heavy fishing pressure in some areas. These pressures must be addressed if we want thriving, healthy native fish and whitebait populations.”

The discussion document sets out proposals to improve whitebait management across New Zealand that are based on feedback from the public, iwi and whitebait experts.

The proposals aim to:

  • Standardise the rules for whitebaiting across New Zealand, including the timing of the fishing season and establishing upstream limits on whitebait fishing to ensure healthy whitebait stocks. (Many of these proposed changes are based on the more comprehensive controls on whitebaiting which currently apply on the South Island’s West Coast).
  • Create refuges in some waterways or reaches of waterways (where whitebait fishing is excluded) to provide safe havens for the native fish species in the whitebait catch to help improve their populations.
  • Increase the equity of whitebait catching opportunities.
  • Phase out the export of whitebait.

There are no plans to introduce a licensing system for recreational fishers or ban the commercial sale of whitebait within New Zealand. None of the proposed changes affect customary fishing rights.

The proposals follow Parliament’s passing of the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill in October 2019 and nationwide engagement in 2018 where 90% of survey respondents said changes were needed to make New Zealand’s whitebait fishery sustainable. 

“I want to reassure whitebaiters that the changes aim to provide for a healthy whitebait fishery in New Zealand. Many of the proposed changes to the whitebaiting regulations are based on regulations which already apply on the South Island’s West Coast.

“We need to make changes if we want whitebaiting to continue and to maintain a healthy fishery longterm. We all need to do our part to improve how we look after these precious native fish. I don’t want any more native fish species to follow the grayling and become extinct.

“I want to thank everyone who has constructively engaged on the issue to date,” said Eugenie Sage.

People can provide feedback on the whitebait management proposals over the next six weeks, either by written comments online or by mail. A series of 21 public discussions will be held around New Zealand, to answer questions on the proposals. Consultation closes on 2 March 2020.

Public submissions will be analysed and considered by the Department of Conservation who will then provide recommendations to the Minister of Conservation later in 2020.

Head to https://www.doc.govt.nz/whitebait-management for the proposals to provide feedback and for details of the public consultation meetings.

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