Whitebait season could change to help protect fish's future

The Government is looking at a range of proposed changes to whitebaiting, including changing the whitebait season, phasing out exports and creating short-to-long term refuges for the fish in certain areas. 

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The Government released a number of proposals today. Source: 1 NEWS

The whitebait discussion document was released today, with a proposed change to the current whitebait season from September 1 to November 15, to either August 15 to October 14, September 1 to October 30 or September 1 to November 15. 

The rationale behind the change was to increase the passage of fish upstream and to reduce fishing pressure during peak migration, the discussion document states. 

The Government also wants to have nationwide upstream limits on whitebaiting, to create whitebait "refuges" in certain waterways and to phase out some whitebait fishing practices such as sock nets. 

The last proposal is to phase out exporting whitebait.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said the proposals aim to "standardise and improve management of whitebait". 

"Four of the six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction – giant kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, kōaro and īnanga," she said. 

"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 proposed "refuges" would either be temporarily two years on; two years off, for five to 10 years, or for a longer time frame of upwards of 10 years. 

Ms Sage said the refuges in some waterways would "provide safe havens for the native fish species in the whitebait catch to help improve their populations". 

"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. I don’t want any more native fish species to follow the grayling and become extinct."