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Community takes dim view of bad practice

Whitebaiters will be dipping their nets into rivers and lakes across Wairarapa today as the new season gets under way, reports ELI HILL.

Whitebaiting started in Wairarapa yesterday and will continue until November 30 like the rest of the country.

The season for South Island’s West Coast begins on September 1 and ends on November 14.

While anywhere a stream or river flows into the sea has potential for whitebait, Wairarapa’s biggest river, the Ruamahanga, flows into the sea at Lake Ferry making it the spot that a lot of people focus their attention on.

Department of Conservation Wairarapa ranger Jim Flack said it was by far the most popular spot in the region.

Flack urged whitebaiters to be responsible and follow the rules around net sizes, placement, and fishing times.

“We’ll be starting [yesterday] and our patrols will stop by when we’re out and about working in South Wairarapa.

“We build the checks into other work we’re doing.

“The community really values whitebait and people get pretty grumpy when they see someone flouting the rules. We got a lot of tip-offs during the last season and mobile phones make it easy for people to get in contact with us,” Flack said.

Whitebaiting is permitted from 5am to 8pm or from 6am to 9pm after the start of daylight saving.

People who suspect someone is fishing for whitebait illegally can call the DOC hotline 0800 362 468.

Offenders can be fined up to $5000.

DOC had spoken to several people during the last season but no fines were issued in Wairarapa.

“Last year we spoke to a few people and had tip-offs that we were given. We were given licence plate numbers and we followed up and spoke to people at their homes.

“Whitebait belong to everyone so when people are using a net that’s too big or using more than one net or some sort of illegal fishing tactic people think ‘well, that’s not fair’ and you can either say something to them or ring our hotline.”

The whitebait regulations are in place to give the young fish a chance to make it past the nets, become adults and lay eggs for the next generation of whitebait.

Hunting and Fishing Masterton store owner Aaron Middleton said more experienced whitebaiters had been in early to get their nets repaired and stock up on equipment.

“Whitebaiting is an interesting one – the more experienced whitebaiters get in early but we’ll have more whitebaiters coming in through the season.”

Pamphlets with the whitebait regulations are available at DOC offices, sporting shops and DOC’s website: http://www.doc.govt.nz/whitebaiting.

Later this year, DOC will consult with the public on improving whitebait management including reviewing the whitebait fishing regulations.

This comes after public engagement in 2018 and earlier this year on improving the whitebait management to restore whitebait populations and provide for a sustainable whitebait fishery.

Info on whitebait:

Whitebait are the juveniles of six species of native fish that grow into adults ranging from 10-60 centimetres long. Four of the six species are categorised as either threatened or at risk.

The shortjaw kokopu is ‘threatened’, while the giant kokopu, koaro and inanga are ‘at risk-declining’. The banded kokopu and smelt are not threatened.

Wairarapa is home to all six species of whitebait.