Date: 23 May 2013
The whitebait fishery in the Lower Clutha River/Mata-Au is starting to improve due to a whitebait enhancement project by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Contact Energy.
DOC is responsible for managing the whitebait/inanga fishery and Contact Energy is required as part of its resource consents to work with DOC on the implementation of a Native Fish Management Plan in the lower Clutha. Part of this plan is a whitebait enhancement project which involves working with landowners to restore spawning habitat along the river banks.
DOC freshwater ranger for Coastal Otago, Pete Ravenscroft, said results were becoming noticeable and whitebait catches had improved. Last year a large whitebait spawning site was located along the river.
Enhancement work so far has included finding inanga spawning sites, which has been challenging because whitebait appear to be spawning on the lower Clutha in May – two months later than in other Otago rivers.
A 10 km stretch of the river has been fenced to ensure stock do not graze on the vegetation that whitebait spawn in, so now most spawning sites on the true left of the Matau branch are protected. Work will begin on the Koau branch of the Clutha next year.
“There are still large sections of the river that are not fenced and are grazed by stock, and we hope to work with landowners in these areas in the future,” Mr Ravenscroft said.
The invasive weed glyceria has been sprayed and planting has been carried out along the banks.
Environmental Advisor with Contact Energy, Daniel Druce, said recently results from the whitebait programme were heartening and it was especially pleasing to see members of the local community involved.
“The whitebait programme is an excellent example of Contact Energy and DOC working constructively on issues that face the Clutha River,” Mr Druce said.
Mr Ravenscroft agreed there had been a huge amount of support from landowners to help protect whitebait habitat. One landowner found eggs on his property and began fencing the following day.
DOC rangers have been carrying out a survey of whitebait catches to determine whether the enhancement work has increased whitebait numbers and fishers have been forthcoming with catch results. The survey is still being conducted and it’s too early to finalise results, Mr Ravenscroft said.