Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Nets set for whitebaiting

Today marks the start of this year’s whitebaiting season, the time each year when locals try their luck casting a net for the juvenile fish.

The season got chopped back to two months last year, in the middle of a three year-year rollout of new fishery regulations by the Department of Conservation [DOC].

These regulations were implemented to address the grim population health of whitebait species, four out of six of which are still threatened with or at risk of extinction.

The new rules included changes to gear and additional whitebait refuges, and this season there are additional changes affecting fishing from stands on the West Coast of Southland.

As whitebait population numbers depend on many factors, such as spawning season and the growth condition of the fish at sea, DOC Wairarapa Biodiversity Ranger Ian Brown said it is unlikely that any population improvements will be observed yet.

“Establishing trends takes a long time, and it will be a while before we see the impact of new season dates on our whitebait populations,” he said.

Neither DOC nor the Greater Wellington Regional Council has current data on Wairarapa’s whitebait population health.

Brown said the Whitebait Regulations 2021, including the shortened white baiting season, will remove some of the fishing pressure.

“They face many threats and pressures, including habitat degradation, poor water quality, and impeded fish passage within river systems, as well as fishing pressure,” Brown said.

“The regulations also contribute to improving equity of fishing opportunity between whitebait fishers and increase the consistency of regulations across New Zealand.”

To ensure whitebaiters are sticking to regulations, Brown said DOC compliance staff will be monitoring local whitebaiting sites while the season is open.

Brown said it is less about intensive monitoring, and more about getting to know the whitebaiters, and making sure they are aware of the regulations.

“We’re not there to wave the big stick unless we have to,” Brown said.

“We can also learn a lot about our fisheries from the whitebaiters, some of whom have been fishing these waters for decades.”

Citing ongoing collaboration between DOC, GWRC, local iwi, and community groups to improve waterways in Wairarapa Moana, Brown said restoration efforts could be compromised if people don’t follow fishing regulations.

“There’s a great effort going into the whole Wairarapa Moana area in terms of water and waterway restoration so fish can travel up the streams to spawn,” Brown said.

“If people don’t stick to the regulations, inanga species won’t recover in the long term. The whitebait regulations are there for a reason – no one wants to see whitebait disappear.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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