Whitebait fishing in the spotlight

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    Whitebaiters on the Aparima River near Riverton. Photo: Dave Loudon Photography

    CONCERNS have been raised about proposed changes to whitebait fishing regulations and members of the public are being urged to have their say at consultation meetings.

    On January 14, the Department of Conservation (DOC) released a proposal to “standardise and improve management of whitebait across New Zealand”.

    Invercargill’s public meeting will be held today at the Invercargill Workingmen’s Club Corinthian Convention Centre from 10.30am-12.30pm.

    Ken Cochrane was a member of the Whitebait Working Group, which was established to help provide DOC with information which could help whitebait management, particularly in areas of population health, restoring declining populations and to ensure a sustainable whitebait fishery.

    He believed there were aspects of the proposed changes which southern whitebaiters would not agree with.

    He said the proposal of a national standard would not work for all areas, and instead should focus on regional areas. “It’s probably more important now for whitebaiters to have their say more than ever.

    “What DOC is proposing, it is frightfully detrimental to whitebaiters on the south coast.”

    Mr Cochrane, who is also a regional councillor for Fish and Game Southland, said one way it would impact Southland whitebaiters was the proposed ban of sock nets.

    “For example, on the Aparima, Oreti and Mataura rivers, I would virtually guarantee that 99% of people who fish those rivers use sock nets.”

    He was also opposed to the potential requirement nets may not be used beyond the outer edge of a stand, which he said would “make whitebait stands in the southern area unusable” in combination with the sock net ban.

    Concerns were raised on the West Coast too, and former West Coast Whitebaiters Association president Des McEnaney, who sat on the ministerial working group, said the creation of

    Between five and 15 West Coast rivers could become whitebait the West Coast already had 23 rivers designated as whitebait reserves, and a further 40 where special conditions applied. There were currently no whitebait reserves elsewhere in New Zealand.

    DOC freshwater manager Elizabeth Heeg said the discussion document proposed whitebait refuges in the long-term were introduced on five to 15 rivers in each region; the number of waterways selected would depend on the size of the region.

    She said the reasoning behind the proposed banning of sock nets was because they could be used passively “Sock nets are a type of passive fishing gear that many people consider to be a particularly efficient way to catch whitebait. This efficiency can result in catching a large amount of whitebait with minimal effort.”

    They can lead to the death of fish, including non-target species, as these are not cleared from nets often enough.

    In response to Mr Cochrane’s concern regarding the potential requirement that nets may not be used beyond the outer edge of a stand, she said it was already in place in the West Coast whitebait fishing regulations.

    “Where this measure is not in place, the reach of any stand into a waterway can be extended by the length of the net used, facilitating the capture of whitebait, including in areas that may be unreachable by other fishers.”

    Submissions close at 9am, March 2, and DOC will then consider submissions received and develop recommendations for the Minister of Conservation and Cabinet to consider.

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