People preparing for whitebaiting opening day this Friday, 15th August, should be aware of regulations which allow fishing but act as a conservation measure to protect whitebait.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) is responsible for administering the whitebait fishery and ensuring people observe the regulations.
DOC senior ranger for Coastal Otago, Pete Ravenscroft, said a huge effort had been put into enhancing and managing whitebait spawning sites, particularly along the Lower Clutha River/Mata-Au and the Taieri River and about 80km of rivers banks throughout Otago were now protected for whitebait.
“DOC, landowners, Contact Energy and Otago Regional Council have worked together to fence and plant spawning and adult whitebait habitat. When we hear about people flouting the rules, such as fishing at night, using oversized and unmanned nets and using more than one net, this is stealing the whitebait fishery from future generations,” Pete said.
He added that sports shops reported an increase in sales of whitebait nets last season, indicating increased pressure on the whitebait fishery.
DOC rangers in Otago plan to increase their surveillance of whitebaiters this season. They will be focussing on whitebaiting outside the permitted hours of 5am-8pm and 6am-9pm after daylight saving. Illegal fishers can be fined up to $5,000 so Pete urges whitebaiters to become familiar with the regulations.
DOC is controlling glyceria which is growing out of control on the banks of the Taieri River. DOC has also been working with Contact Energy to control the weed on the Lower Clutha River. This invasive weed smothers whitebait habitat and DOC is hoping landowners will get involved in helping with this work.
Whitebaiters are also asked to keep a diary of their catches and time spent on the river. DOC will use this information to determine whether the habitat enhancement work is increasing whitebait numbers. Contact your local DOC office to register if interested.
Pete said every third season seemed to be a good one and this season was likely to be average. He said the best location for opening day is anywhere the water is clear. The Lower Clutha River produces the most whitebait in Otago but Dunedin people like to whitebait in the Taieri, Waikouaiti, Kakanui and Shag Rivers.
The whitebait season runs until 30 November. Pamphlets outlining information on the regulations can be obtained from DOC offices and sports shops and on the DOC website.