National claims Minister of Conservation wants to ban whitebaiting in New Zealand

National’s Conservation spokesperson, Sarah Dowie, says whitebaiting is at risk of being banned in New Zealand "if the Minister of Conservation gets her way".

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Julian Lee looks at the complex fight over the future of a New Zealand food. Source: Seven Sharp

Concerns about declining numbers over the years - a fact in itself which is heavily disputed - has led to the previously unthinkable idea of banning commercial whitebaiting altogether, Ms Dowie said. 

Ms Dowie sent out a press release this evening putting forward the National Party's view on the contentious issue.

"National will oppose the second reading of the Indigenous Freshwater Fish Amendment Bill, as it will ultimately result in the prohibition of whitebaiting in New Zealand.

"The bill’s transitional clauses mean that after a year, whitebaiting will be prohibited unless there is specific authorisation to do otherwise," Ms Dowie said.

"[Minister] Eugenie Sage’s ideological views are not friendly towards recreational fishers and hunters.

"The whitebaiting community has also told me they feel as though her whitebait consultation process has been a farce and they are concerned about their future livelihoods and the future of the Kiwi pastime.

"If Ms Sage has her way, whitebaiting will be prohibited," she continued.

The Government denies it has plans to ban whitebaiting over the next year, but after that it's open for interpretation.

Ms Sage, the Conservation Minister, told TVNZ1's Seven Sharp that there is "a crisis for our nation's freshwater fish".

"There will be consultation on whitebait management later this year, but there are no changes to the whitebait regulations this year," she said. 

When pressed on if banning whitebaiting could be a possibility after this year, Ms Sage said: "Well, we will see what the public says."

West Coast whitebaiter Tony White told Seven Sharp the Government's plans are "pretty vague".

"It feels a lot like they're trying to take whitebaiting off everyone and there isn't much transparency to be honest," he said. 

"I've done it since I was five years old, so it's pretty much a way of life."