With the approach of the whitebait season, which starts this week, the Department of Conservation (DOC) is reminding Otago whitebaiters to keep a diary of their catches so rangers can monitor the state of the fishery. The season runs from August 15 until 30 November.
DOC senior ranger for Coastal Otago, Pete Ravenscroft, said diary information received from whitebaiters in previous seasons had been invaluable to the department. “Their feedback on catches and time spent on the river shows despite whitebait numbers declining overall in New Zealand, in Otago numbers may have slightly improved in recent years,” Pete said.
“This improvement is partly due to the relationship between DOC and landowners, as well as the work Contact Energy supports to protect whitebait spawning sites, particularly on the banks of the Lower Clutha River/Mata-Au.”
This enhancement work includes weed control and fencing spawning sites.
DOC will be patrolling whitebait sites and talking to whitebaiters throughout the season to ensure people are complying with the regulations.
“There’s no excuse for not complying with the regulations. They’ve been around a long time and are simple and easy to follow,” Pete said.
Pamphlets with the regulations are at DOC offices, sporting shops and this website.
Pete is predicting a good whitebaiting season, as every third season seemed to be a good one. He added early September would be the peak time, as long as rivers were clear.
Whitebait are juveniles of five species of native fish: shortjaw kokopu, giant kokopu, inanga, koaro and banded kokopu. Those that escape the whitebait net grow into adults ranging from about 9 cm to 50 cm long. They spawn in streamside vegetation.
Whitebaiting is permitted between 5 am and 8 pm or between 6 am and 9 pm when daylight saving starts on 28 September.
Illegal whitebaiting carries a maximum fine of $5000 and whitebaiting equipment can be seized.
Some instream structures stop whitebait migrating upstream to adult habitat. People are urged to contact their local DOC or Regional Council office if they see overhanging culverts that stop whitebait migrating.