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

Introduction

View a summary of whitebait fishing regulations in all New Zealand including the Chatham Islands.

Highlights

COVID-19 Alert Level rules

Alert Level 3: You can fish for whitebait during the whitebaiting season. Fish locally, stay 2 metres from other river users and remember boating is not allowed. You must: 

  • only fish from the banks of rivers or the water’s edge
  • not enter the water
  • not use a boat to fish.

You legally must also comply with all current whitebait regulations. 

Alert Level 2: Whitebaiting is allowed provided you maintain 2 metre physical distancing while complying with the fishing rules.

DOC's response to COVID-19 including guidance for other levels. 

On this page:

This is a summary of the Whitebait Fishing Regulations 2021. It’s a guide only, has no legal standing, and does not contain all the rules. Familiarise yourself with the full regulations.

These whitebait regulations do not affect Māori fishing rights. No changes have been made to provisions that affect customary fishing rights.

Fishing season and times

Fishing is only allowed during the season and from:

The taking of whitebait at all other times is prohibited.

Fishing season dates 2021

  • All of New Zealand except West Coast and Chatham Islands: 15 August to 30 November inclusive.
  • West Coast: 1 September to 14 November inclusive.
  • Chatham Islands: 1 December to 28 February 2022 inclusive.

Fishing season dates for 2022 and future

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

Where you can fish

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

Fishing 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 fish from any bridge or vessel.

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

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

Fishing gear

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

Fishing 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 2021 and 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.

Diagram showing oblong shaped net mouth.Image: DOC Crown Copyright

Screens

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 Crown Copyright

Stands

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 2021 and 2022 seasons.

‘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 fish

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 Crown Copyright

You:

  • 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

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.

DOC’s enforcement tools.

Why the regulations changed

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.

Whitebait regulations consultation.

Contacts and resources

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

Download the whitebaiter's guide to whitebaiting brochure (PDF, 1,120K)

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