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.   

What is the current status of the work?

DOC’s work engaging with New Zealanders on issues for whitebait and options for whitebait management began in mid-2018. DOC then prepared a report (New Zealanders' views on whitebait management: Summary of findings from a public engagement process), released in May 2019. The report summarises feedback from New Zealanders on options for work to address the pressures facing whitebait populations, including potential management tools.

The Minister of Conservation directed DOC to proceed to public consultation on whitebait management, having considered this feedback. Consultation includes reviewing the regulations that support whitebait fishing. It is expected that any changes to the whitebait fishing regulations will be finalised around mid-2020. At that time, DOC will communicate when changes will be introduced. No changes will be made for the 2019 whitebait fishing season.

After public consultation is completed, DOC’s work on whitebait will continue. For example, DOC will continue its work managing whitebait habitat and conducting compliance and enforcement activities in the whitebait fishery.  

Who provided their views to the engagement process?

Contributions from more than 3,000 people were received by DOC during the engagement process. These are summarised in the report (New Zealanders' views on whitebait management: Summary of findings from a public engagement process). Contributors included iwi, Māori, stakeholders and the public.

A Whitebait Working Group was established to contribute to this work. This group reflected the range of interests that New Zealanders have in whitebait.

Public drop-in sessions were held around New Zealand to seek people's views. These were attended by approximately 400 people.

2,875 people contributed their views via an online survey.

Feedback from iwi and Māori was provided directly to the Minister of Conservation by DOC, in addition to being summarised in the report. The working group also considered feedback from iwi, Māori and stakeholders.

Who were the members of the Whitebait Working Group?

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

Why are you releasing a report with no recommendations and going out for more consultation when whitebait populations are declining?

As a first step, DOC engaged with iwi, Māori, stakeholders and interested members of the public to hear everyone’s views on issues for whitebait and options for management. The feedback received showed how much New Zealanders care about whitebait – most respondents wanted whitebait management to improve.

Informed by feedback from the engagement process, the Minister of Conservation directed DOC to develop proposals on whitebait management for public consultation. These will include regulatory proposals. The process for reviewing regulations ensures that everyone has a chance to contribute their views, and this takes time. 

What sort of options will be considered?

During the initial engagement process, any and all options for whitebait management were considered. The options arising from the engagement process included, for example:

  • Habitat protection and restoration.
  • Changes to the whitebait regulations covering fishing gear, whitebait seasons, and closed areas.
  • Conducting science and research to address knowledge gaps.

Some of the management options proposed in the engagement process can be implemented by DOC as part of its work without consultation, e.g. site-based management to protect whitebait habitat. However, public consultation is required to make any changes to the whitebait fishing regulations. The consultation process involves seeking feedback on DOC’s proposals for regulatory change. Submitters may also wish to provide their views on alternatives to DOC’s proposals.

How can the public be involved in the consultation?

DOC will provide information on how the public can be involved in the consultation.

A discussion document on proposals to improve whitebait management will be issued later this year. Discussion sessions will be held around the country, and people will be encouraged to have their say on the proposals by email, letter, or by completing an online submission form.

Do we know enough about whitebait to manage them properly?

DOC published a report summarising the current knowledge about whitebait in 2018. 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. It also noted gaps, like the effects of harvest.

While gaps in our knowledge of whitebait creates challenges, the management of these fish and the fishery can still be improved.

Could this end commercial whitebaiting?

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

The consultation document will include proposals on possible future changes to the whitebait fishing regulations.

What assurances can you give to whitebaiters that you’re not going to stop whitebaiting altogether?

DOC’s responsibilities for whitebait include managing the whitebait fishery. Fishing is one of the pressures that affects whitebait. Other pressures include habitat loss and barriers to fish movement in waterways. The report from DOC’s engagement process summarises feedback received on all of those issues, and a broad range of options to address them.

The purpose of public consultation is to improve whitebait management. This involves ensuring healthy and restored whitebait populations and providing for a sustainable fishery. It is not DOC’s intent to stop whitebait fishing altogether. 

This report doesn’t create any certainty for the future. When can we expect answers on the plan?

DOC’s engagement process (summarised in the report) was intended to find out what New Zealanders thought about whitebait, and how management of whitebait could be improved. The responses highlighted where changes can be made, both in how DOC approaches its work and in the regulations that support whitebait fishing.

To make changes to the regulations, public consultation is required. The outcomes of that consultation are expected to be finalised around mid-2020. No changes will be made for the 2019 whitebait fishing season.

Why is DOC creating more uncertainty for whitebaiters who feel like the government is taking away their ability to fish?

DOC understands that this kind of regulatory review creates uncertainty. Whitebaiters contributed extensively to DOC’s engagement process. Some of the responses provided detailed feedback on changes they thought necessary to improve the whitebait fishery. It is not DOC’s intent to stop whitebait fishing altogether, and no changes will be made for the 2019 whitebait fishing season. 

How does this consultation relate to the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill?

This consultation on improving whitebait management is separate to the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill process. More information about the Bill can be found on the Indigenous Freshwater Fish management reform FAQ

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