Whitebaiting Okarito River mouth, Westland
Image: Jo Macpherson | DOC


Find out about whitebait regulations and the whitebaiting season for the West Coast.

The Department of Conservation is responsible for managing New Zealand’s whitebait fisheries. Observe the regulations and conserve our species.

Download this information in a brochure: The whitebaiter's guide to whitebaiting on the West Coast (PDF, 2,980K)

Summary of whitebait fishing regulations

The regulations summarised here are for West Coast of the South Island. Also see All of New Zealand except West Coast whitebait regulations.

Fishing season

The whitebait season for the West Coast of the South Island is 1 September to 14 November inclusive.

The taking of whitebait at other times is prohibited. Fishing is only permitted between 5:00 am and 8:00 pm, or between 6:00 am and 9:00 pm during New Zealand Daylight Saving.

Fishing gear

‘Fishing gear’ includes all nets, screens, lines or other devices that are used, or are capable of being used, to take whitebait.

No person can set or use more than one whitebait net at a time.

Every person who sets or uses a whitebait net must remain within 10 m of the net or of a licensed structure on which the net is set.

Whitebait nets should not:

  • have a mouth larger than 4.5 m measured on the inside of the net frame
  • have framing material that is wider than 120 mm
  • be longer than 3.5 m in length.

No fishing gear should:

  • exceed more than one-third of the water channel width
  • be used in conjunction with another person to exceed more than one-third of the channel width 
  • include screens exceeding 3 m in length.

If screens are used, they must be set from the water’s edge, with no water between them and the bank.

Fishing gear (other than a licensed structure) must be removed from the water at the end of fishing, but no later than 8:00 pm, or 9:00 pm if during daylight saving, whichever is the earlier.

Whitebaiting net diagram.
Whitebaiting net diagram


No person shall (among other things):

  • fish from any bridge
  • fish within 40 m of a licensed structure that is being fished
  • possess whitebait in conjunction with any whitebait net that is not permitted to be used under the whitebait regulations, whether or not that net is being used for fishing at the time
  • discard or dump on shore any fish taken when fishing for whitebait
  • fish for or take whitebait from any area that is not tidal, or that is upstream of any back peg by the side of the rivers specified in the third schedule of the regulations.

West Coast rivers and creeks that have back pegs are: Awarua, Hollyford/Whakatipu Ka Tuka, Smoothwater, Cascade, Arawhata, Waiatoto, Okuru, Turnbull, Haast, Waita, Moeraki, Paringa, Mahitahi, Jacobs, Manakaiaua, Hunts, Karangarua, Omoeroa, Waitangitāhuna, Whataroa, Poerua, Wanganui, Waitaha, Mikonui, Totara, Hokitika, Arahura, Houhou, Waimea, Serpentine, Taramakau, New River/Kaimata, Grey/Mawheranui, Punakaiki, Pororari, Fox, Ōkari, Waitakere or Nile, Buller, Orowaiti, Mokihinui, Little Wanganui, Granite, Karamea, Oparara, Kohaihai and Heaphy.

Nothing in these regulations permits any person fishing for whitebait to interfere with, alter or modify the natural bed or banks of any river, stream, estuary or channel.

Closed areas

No person shall fish or take whitebait from:

  • the area of about 2.5 acres known as Kongahu Swamp located north of Granite Creek to the east of the main road approximately 6.5 km south of Karamea
  • Mahinapua Creek/Tuwharewhare to the south side of the Hokitika River; any tributary of Mahinapua Creek/Tuwahrewhare; Lake Mahinapua; and any stream running into the lake
  • the south bank of the Hokitika River from a point 500 m downstream from the state highway bridge to the sea
  • the area known as the Hapuka River (including any tributary stream of the Hapuka River) that extends to the sea on the south bank and to the Okuru Lagoon on the north bank
  • any tributary stream of the Waiatoto River and the waters of the Waiatoto River above the mean high water mark
  • the north bank of the Cascade River from 20 m upstream from Old Man Creek to the sea
  • Old Man Creek
  • Barn Creek, which enters the Cascade River, and any tributary stream of Barn Creek
  • Awarua River upstream from the Department of Conservation swing bridge
  • all rivers, streams and tributaries in Fiordland between Yates Point in the north and Puysegur Point in the south
  • Baker Creek (a tributary of the Karamea River estuary)
  • Blackwater Creek (to within 200 m of the tide gate at Kongahu Swamp)
  • Bradshaws (Martins) Creek (a tributary of the Buller River)
  • Bullock Creek (a tributary of the Pororari River)
  • all tributaries of the Punakaiki River
  • Ounatai Lagoon (a tributary of the Waitaha River)
  • Oneone Creek (a tributary of the Wanganui River)
  • Hikimutu Lagoon (a tributary of the Poerua River)
  • Crikey Creek (a tributary of the Haast River)
  • Nolans Creek (a tributary of the Okuru River)
  • Collyer Creek (a tributary of the Turnbull River).


DOC keeps a record of persons caught offending against the Whitebait Fishing Regulations (West Coast) 1994. Those caught may have their fishing gear seized, may be issued an infringement fine; and may also be prosecuted, and if convicted, face a fine of up to $5000.

Unlawfully taken fish shall be immediately and carefully returned to the waters from which they were taken.

More information about our enforcement tools.

Whitebait stands

The licensing and administration of whitebait stands is the responsibility of the West Coast Regional Council. DOC retains responsibility for ensuring compliance to the whitebait regulations as they pertain to the use of stands.

About this summary

This information is a guide only. It has no legal standing, nor does it contain all the rules. Familiarise yourself with the Whitebait Fishing (West Coast) Regulations 1994, Amendment No. 2 and Amendment Regulations 2000. Copies can be purchased from DOC West Coast visitor centres and offices, or viewed on the New Zealand Legislation website.

Check, Clean and Dry between waterways logo.
Clean, Check, Dry to help prevent the spread of didymo and other freshwater pests

Check, Clean, Dry

Stop the spread of didymo and other freshwater pests.

Didymo is an exotic alga that invades waterways. To prevent the spread of freshwater pests such as didymo, always Check, Clean, Dry all footwear (including waders), vehicles, fishing equipment and other items before entering, and when moving between, waterways.


Contact a DOC West Coast office

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