DOC survey: NZ public wants change to ensure sustainability of whitebait fishing

The majority of Kiwis surveyed by the Department of Conservation think more needs to be done to ensure whitebait fishing in New Zealand is sustainable.

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Whitebait are being wiped out and it's the fault of people like me, or is it? Sunday's Matt Chisholm finds out. Source: Sunday

Feedback was gathered over seven months with a survey and drop-in sessions around the country.

"Whitebait species are not being identified as a taonga (Māori treasure), which is much more than a fisheries resource.

They are our guardians as much as we are of them," one respondent wrote.

The shortjaw kokopu is classed as threatened and nationally vulnerable, while the inanga, kōaro and giant kokopu are in decline and at risk.

The banded kōkopu and common smelt are not classified as threatened.

"The extent of feedback and the views expressed are a good basis for DOC to do further work and prepare a discussion document on how to improve the future of the whitebait fishery and these precious native fish," DOC’s Martin Kessick said in a statement released today.

The public thought major issues for whitebait sustainability was the loss and degradation of environments where whitebait live, water pollution, blocked streams, a ‘fragmented management regime,’ and inadequate fishing regulations and enforcement of rules.

"Stronger compliance required (haven’t seen a ranger for 15 seasons)" and "How can a native fish be caught and sold. When trout are not native and cannot. That is so a*** about face," were comments made by respondents.

A report on the survey concluded: "Improving the status of whitebait, and providing for a fishery in perpetuity, will require action: changes in behavior from different people, interest groups, industries and management agencies."

The Government organisation said it will work on a proposal to improve whitebait management for Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage to consider, in the statement.

DOC’s planning to release the document later this year with public consultation to follow.