Why we're working to improve whitebait management and promote a sustainable fishery.

What’s the purpose of the work to improve whitebait management?

DOC is looking at whitebait management to ensure whitebait populations are healthy, identify what can be done to restore them in areas where they have declined, and identify what is needed to ensure a sustainable whitebait fishery.

Why is this work being done?

Whitebait are in decline. Four of the six species of native fish that make up the whitebait fishery are threatened or at risk of extinction – giant kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, inanga and kōaro.

Whitebait face a range of threats and pressures including habitat degradation, poor quality spawning sites, poor water quality, obstacles to fish passage such as poorly designed culverts within river systems and in some areas heavy fishing pressure.

Whitebait are a taonga for iwi and whitebait fishing is a key part of Kiwi culture for many people. We need to improve the management of whitebait to ensure the fish and the fishery are healthy and we have a sustainable fishery.    

When will the work be complete?

DOC, assisted by a working group reflecting the range of interests in whitebait, is preparing an issues and options paper. This paper is expected to be completed in February 2019. It will describe a range of options for potential work to address the pressures facing whitebait populations including potential management tools.

Who is involved?

A Whitebait Working Group has been established to contribute to this work. The role of this group is to advise and provide input into the issues and options paper. Public drop-in sessions were held around New Zealand to seek people's views. These will be reflected in the issues and options paper.

DOC is also talking with Treaty partners and stakeholders in parallel with the working group process. Feedback from Treaty partners will be provided directly to the Minister of Conservation. The working group will also consider feedback from Treaty partners and stakeholders.

Who are the members of the working group?

Members have been invited to participate in the working group because of their expertise in different aspects of whitebait including commercial and recreational fishing, habitat restoration, fisheries management, mātauranga Māori, and ecology.

How can the public be involved?

We met with stakeholders and the public (at drop-in sessions) in late 2018 and provided an online survey for people to contribute their views. This information was considered by the Whitebait Working Group and will feed into the issues and options document.

What sort of options will be considered?

The options may be at a local, regional or national level and could include:

  • Restoring spawning sites at specific locations
  • Identifying best practice for activities in whitebait habitat like drain clearance and culvert design
  • Guidance to community groups on how to improve the health of whitebait populations
  • Changes to the whitebait regulations covering fishing gear, whitebait seasons, closed areas and data gathering.

Could the review end commercial whitebaiting?

While whitebait can be sold commercially, the fishery is managed as a recreational one. All management options, including controls on fishing, will be considered during this process.

This process is advisory. Any changes to the regulations governing whitebait fishing would only be made after formal public consultation.

Do we know enough about whitebait to manage them properly?

DOC published a report summarising the current knowledge about whitebait earlier this year. This report showed that we have good knowledge in some areas such as the habitat and distribution of whitebait species, and general pressures and threats, but there are gaps such as the effects of harvest. The need to gather further information or do specific research may be identified as one of the management options.

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