New whitebaiting rules to be enforced

Whitebaiting stands line the Aparima River, near Riverton. Photo: File

A NEW regime will be introduced for the whitebaiting season, which begins next weekend.

The regulations had been put in place after two years of consultation to help ensure a healthy future for the fishery, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan said on Friday.

“The new regulations herald a more equitable fishery, easing the pressure on whitebait species while providing better alignment and consistency of fishing rules across the country,” Ms Allan said.

“Whitebait are taonga, mahinga kai for Maori and a valuable part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity.

“Once plentiful, four of the six species we have are now threatened or at risk of extinction.

“No-one wants to see whitebait disappear; they are part and parcel of our food heritage, with at least one annual festival celebrating the treasured delicacies.”

The new regulations, announced in June, follow two years of public engagement and will be introduced over three whitebaiting seasons, making it easier for whitebaiters to adjust.

“While they are an important step towards a sustainable fishery, where whitebait survive and thrive, they are only part of the process to ensure the future of whitebait species,” Ms Allan said.

This season, the Department of Conservation (Doc) would gather more evidence about the state of the fishery, including monitoring and scientific assessment, with the aim to continue improving whitebait management over the long term, she said.

“Better information is essential to identify any need for further changes to the programme or regulations, and ensure whitebait management continues to be effective.

“Doc will also continue to focus on addressing other significant pressures such as habitat loss, environmental degradation, impeded fish passage within river systems, loss of spawning sites and introduced fish species.

“We all have a role to play in making sure whitebait don’t become just a memory to hand down to the next generation,” Ms Allan said.

The season opens on August 15, with the exception of the West Coast, where it opens on September 1.

The whitebait season extends over three different time periods around New Zealand.

The nationally standardised shorter season would reduce fishing pressure on the most threatened species of whitebait during its peak migration period, Ms Allan said.

The new season, starting next year, will run from September 1 to October 30.

The Chatham Islands will retain its separate fishing season.

In 2023, the maximum overall length limit for fishing gear is 6m nationwide. This includes from stands.