Veteran whitebait fisherman Garry O’Dwyer in action at Lake Onoke. PHOTO/FILE
The whitebaiting season is about to fire up, but not without new regulations.
The Government announced changes to whitebait regulations in July, which previously hadn’t changed since the 1990s.
During the consultation period, Featherston resident and keen whitebaiter Garry O’Dwyer said Wairarapa was different to other whitebaiting areas.
O’Dwyer, who has been whitebaiting at Lake Onoke for over 60 years, said our waterways were more prone to blockages during the season than the fast-flowing rivers in other parts of the country, such as the West Coast.
Upstream limits to fishing will now apply to all of New Zealand.
Whitebait fishing will only be allowed where water levels are affected by the tide. Back pegs will mark this point in some rivers.
Fishing will now be prohibited within 20 metres of structures such as weirs and groynes where fish congregate.
The only legal diversion device will be screens, which would be limited to a length of three metres.
Now, only one net will be allowed to be used while fishing and the maximum water will be one-quarter of its width.
The minimum fixed distance between fixed fishing gear, excluding stands, will now be 20 metres.
Following rules set on the West Coast, fishing will now only be allowed in estuaries and near river mouths.
Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan said the new regulations signalled a more equitable fishery, easing the pressure on whitebait species while providing better alignment and consistency of fishing rules across the country.
“Whitebait are taonga, mahinga kai for Maori, and a valuable part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity. Once plentiful, four of the six species we have are now threatened or at risk of extinction.
“No one wants to see whitebait disappear; they are part and parcel of our food heritage, with at least one annual festival celebrating the treasured delicacies,” Allan said.
She said the new regulations came after two years of public engagement and would be rolled out over three whitebaiting seasons, making it easier for whitebaiters to adjust.
“While they are an important step towards a sustainable fishery, where whitebait survive and thrive, they are only part of the process to ensure the future of whitebait species.
“During this season, the Department of Conservation will gather more evidence about the state of the fishery, including further monitoring and scientific assessment, with the aim to continue improving whitebait management over the long term.
Allan said better information was essential to any need for further changes to the programme or regulations and ensure whitebait management continues to be effective.
“DOC will also continue to focus on addressing other significant pressures such as habitat loss, environmental degradation, impeded fish passage within river systems, loss of spawning sites and introduced fish species.”
She said we all had a role to play in making sure whitebait didn’t become merely a memory to hand down to the next generation.
The whitebait season opens on August 15 in Wairarapa and finishes on November 30.
From next year, the season will run from September 1 to October 30 everywhere in the country.
- For more information, visit doc.govt.nz/whitebaiting#fishing-season.