The Department of Conservation (DOC) is reminding the public that the whitebait season does not start until Friday 15 August. Any baiters caught with their nets in the water prior to that date are liable to prosecution under the Whitebait Fishing Regulations.
Gisborne Conservation Services Ranger, Jamie Quirk says the Regulations are in place to protect whitebait species and therefore the fishery so it can be enjoyed by future generations.
"Last year a number of whitebaiters were apprehended and appeared in court. Three were fined from $600 up to $2,000 each for whitebait offences and their fishing equipment forfeited to the Crown."
"Whitebait are the young of native fish such as giant kokopu, shortjaw kokopu, banded kokopu, koaro and inanga, collectively known as galaxiids. They are a variety of native fish species that spend six months at sea and then make their way up rivers and streams," said Mr Quirk.
"They are in decline we are losing more of them each year. Water removal for out-of-stream use, pollution, wetland drainage, introduced pests and destruction of stream-side vegetation are some of the issues that threaten the long-term survival of whitebait species."
The whitebaiting season is another threat to the viability of freshwater fish populations. Concern for the future of both the fish and one of New Zealand's best loved recreational traditions prompted creation of the whitebaiting regulations.
DOC is therefore calling on whitebaiters to ensure they comply with whitebaiting regulations in place to protect the whitebait fishery and native fish populations and to be courteous to other waterway users. The regulations include requirements to use only "one" whitebait net at a time, to stay within 10 metres of the net, and the net should not exceed more than one third of the water channel width.
DOC administers regulations regarding fishing methods, timing, location and net size to ensure that enough young fish get upstream to mature and subsequently create new whitebait for the future.
"We're aware that instant communities spring up on the banks of streams and rivers as people experience the pleasures of both tending their nets in beautiful surroundings and consuming their catches. This traditional kiwi pastime is dependent on having sustainable native fish populations," Jamie Quirk said.
"If future generations are also to have the opportunity of enjoying this healthy recreation, it is essential that all whitebaiters observe the regulations," said Mr Quirk.
Whitebaiters are being reminded to clean nets and other gear between waterways to prevent spreading didymo (Didymosphenia geminata) and other aquatic pests during this year’s whitebait season. Didymo has not yet been found in North Island rivers. However all rivers should be treated as if they are infected with didymo as it is difficult to detect when not in bloom.
Other pest species (such as pest fish and aquatic weeds) are present in some North Island waterways and can also have negative impacts on whitebait. It is therefore crucial that all freshwater users clean their gear between waterways to protect freshwater biodiversity.
The whitebaiting season lasts until 30 November. Fishing is permitted only between 5 am and 8 pm or between 6 am and 9 pm when daylight saving comes into effect.
"Generally speaking, whitebaiters observe the regulations and help us keep this fishery sustainable. The regulations provide for fines of up to $5,000, so fishers should be aware of what is permitted. Pamphlets outlining information on the regulations can be obtained from DOC offices and sports shops," said Mr Quirk.
Information on whitebait regulations can be obtained from DOC offices and visitor centres.