Whitebaiting in the surf near Okarito River mouth, Westland, West Coast
Image: Jo Macpherson | DOC


Find out when and where to fish for whitebait in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands.

Season and times

Whitebaiting season dates:

  • all of New Zealand except Chatham Islands: 1 September to 30 October (inclusive)
  • Chatham Islands: 1 December to the last day of February (inclusive).

Whitebaiting is only allowed during the season and from:

The taking of whitebait at all other times is prohibited.

How to whitebait

Find information on whitebaiting regulations, including:

This information is based on the Whitebait Fishing Regulations 2021 – it is a guide only, and does not contain all of the rules.

Familiarise yourself with the full regulations:

The Whitebait Fishing Regulations 2021 do not apply to customary fishing rights exercised by tangata whenua.


Whitebaiter's guide to whitebaiting brochure (PDF, 1,615K) English

Whitebaiter's guide to whitebaiting brochure (PDF, 1,178K) Te reo

Where you can whitebait

Whitebaiting is only allowed where water levels are affected by the tide. Back pegs will mark this limit in some rivers.

It is not allowed within 20 m of any:

  • tide gate
  • floodgate
  • confluence
  • culvert
  • weir
  • groyne
  • outfall structure, or
  • unlawful diversion.

You’re also not allowed to whitebait from any bridge or vessel.

Stylised image showing where you can't fish
Image: DOC

Fishing is not allowed in whitebait refuges. There are three regions with whitebait refuges:

Whitebait fishing gear

Fishing gear must be removed from the water at the end of fishing or the end of the day, whichever is earlier.

Gear cannot be:

  • more than one quarter of the width across the waterway either separately or together with someone else’s gear across the waterway, or
  • 6 m in total length. This length restriction does not apply to the West Coast during the 2022 seasons.

‘Fishing gear’ includes anything that is used or is capable of being used to fish for whitebait but does not include a licensed structure, also called ‘a stand’.

‘Fixed fishing gear’ is gear set on the riverbed to catch fish, except when used from stands. Fixed fishing gear does not need a person to hold it or actively move it to catch fish.

Whitebait nets

Drag nets:

  • must be flat when laid on a flat surface
  • cannot be taller than 1 m in height
  • cannot be more than 3.5 m in length, and
  • cannot be used on the West Coast.

‘Drag net’ means any net or any rope, material or device used with the net that is weighted on the bottom edge, and operated by surrounding any whitebait and being drawn through the water.

Other whitebait nets:

  • cannot have a mouth larger than 4.5 m measured around the inside of the net frame, and
  • framing material cannot be wider than 120 mm, and
  • cannot be more than 3.5 m in length.

Possessing whitebait and a whitebait net that is prohibited under these regulations is not allowed.

Graphic showing the dimensions of a set and scoop net. 4.5 metre maximum measurement around the inside of the net.
Image: DOC

Graphic showing the allowed dimensions of drag nets. 6 metres max distance between the two poles holding the net up. The net itself is 3.5 metres max horizontally, and 1 metre max vertically. The distance between the poles and the taught net is 1.25 metres max from either pole to the net itself.
Image: DOC


Screens are the only device allowed to divert whitebait into a net. They cannot be more than 3 m in length, not including the net, unless used from a stand.

Outside the West Coast any configuration of the nets and screens is allowed. For example, a 2 m screen then a scoop then a 1 m screen on the outside.

Stylised image showing maximum length of screens
Image: DOC


Stands are not allowed to use:

  • more than one net
  • fishing gear measuring more than 6 m in total length. This does not apply to a stand on the West Coast during the 2022 season.

‘Stand’ means any structure authorised to be used to fish for whitebait under the Resource Management Act 1991. Stands are managed by regional councils.

How you can whitebait

Always maintain at least 20 m between fixed fishing gear, except when used from stands. No minimum distance between scoop or drag nets.

Two stylised images showing examples of where people are allowed to fish. One image shows that you're not allowed to put fixed fishing gear within 20 metres of another fixed fishing gear. The other image shows four people using scoop nets within one 20 metre space.
View higher resolution version (PDF, 120K)
Image: DOC


  • can only use one net at a time and must stay within 10 m of that net
  • must immediately release any species that are not whitebait – make sure bycatch survive
  • are not allowed to alter or modify the natural bed or banks of any river, stream, estuary or channel.


Penalties for not following these regulations may result in an infringement fine of:

  • $400, or
  • $800 if the original fine is not paid or appealed.

You may also be prosecuted.

2021 regulations

The whitebait regulations were changed in 2021.

The regulations had not changed since the 1990s and were long overdue for review. The new regulations will improve the fishery’s sustainability by reducing fishing pressure on whitebait species and native fish bycatch.

They will increase equity of catching opportunities for recreational, low-volume fishers by standardising regulations across the country.

About the consultation that led to the 2021 Whitebait Regulations

Resources and reports

Check, Clean, Dry advice for whitebaiters (PDF, 591K)

2021 whitebait season information capture (PDF, 13,900K)
This report details the information gathered, nationally and at pilot sites, during the 2021 whitebait season, to inform a more comprehensive approach for the 2022 season.


Contact your local DOC office for more information or email whitebait@doc.govt.nz

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