Why whitebait are in decline
Whitebait prefer to live in bush-covered streams. In the last 100 years we have lost a huge amount of whitebait habitat (for spawning as well as adult fish habitat) by draining wetlands, artificially channelling small streams and removing vegetation beside streams.
Adult whitebait need clean water and healthy waterways to live in and breed. Pollution from land reduces the water quality in streams and rivers and introduced plants clog up the places where whitebait live. Sediment also blocks the spaces between stones on the stream bed, reducing the habitat for invertebrates, which adult fish feed on.
Barriers in waterways, like dams and overhanging culverts stop migrating whitebait from reaching better habitat upstream.
Introduced sports fish like trout and pest fish like gambusia compete for habitat and prey on whitebait. Whitebait fishing is also thought to contribute to the decline, but its impact is not known.
How we can turn the decline around
There are many ways we can help increase whitebait populations:
- Follow the whitebait fishing regulations.
- Keep your whitebait catch small and only take what you need.
- Fence off waterways to keep farm animals out.
- Replant streams on your property with natives.
- Keep streams free from pest plants and fish.
- Report dams or overhanging culverts to your local DOC or regional council office.
- Ensure culverts, weirs, dams and floodgates on your land are properly installed and maintained to be fish-friendly.
- Get involved in a community project to fence and plant local streams.
- Limit the sediment and nutrients leaving your property.
Prevent the spread of didymo
Didymo is an exotic alga that invades waterways. To prevent the spread of freshwater pests such as didymo, always check all footwear (including waders), vehicles, fishing equipment and other items are clean and dry before entering, and when moving between, waterways.