August marks the start of whitebait fishing season for Kiwis—well, for almost all Kiwis. If you reside in the West Coast of the South Island, you may have to wait a bit longer till 1 September.
But as keen whitebaiters gear up for 15 August—the official date when the season opens—it is important to remember the risks associated with whitebaiting and to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to ensure the safety of people and the environment around you.
With New Zealand’s native fish in decline, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has set out regulations to ensure the conservation of our species.
Key points to remember when whitebaiting
Fishing is only permitted between 5am and 8pm or between 6am and 9pm when New Zealand Daylight Saving is being observed.
Fishing gear—including all nets, screens, lines, or other devices that are used or are capable of being used—should not exceed more than one-third of the water channel width, nor should it exceed six metres in total length.
Whitebait nets must have a mouth no longer than 4.5 metres and framing material no wider than 120mm. Drag nets are restricted to a maximum of one metre in height and must also be flat when laid on a flat surface. Both nets must not be longer than 3.5 metres in length.
In the West Coast, the regulations slightly differ and include a list of closed areas. In both cases, anyone caught breaking the rules may have their fishing gear seized by the DOC and may also be prosecuted, and if convicted, face a fine of up to $5000.
DOC also urges Kiwis to prevent the spread of freshwater pests, such as didymo by ensuring all footwear, vehicles, fishing equipment, and other items are clean and dry before entering and when moving between waterways.
Preventing whitebait decline
Every year, there are fewer whitebait in our waters, with a huge amount of whitebait habitat being lost by draining wetlands, artificially channelling small streams, and removing vegetation beside streams. With the species in decline, you can do your part to help. Always ensure that you are following all the whitebait fishing regulations laid out. Also, keep your catch small and only take what you need. If you catch any species that are not whitebait, release them back into the water.
Keep streams free from pest plants and fish and if you spot any dams or overhanging culverts, report it to the local DOC or regional council office.
For more information and a full list of regulations, visit doc.govt.nz.
Whitebait season in New Zealand
- 15 August to 30 November Whole of NZ except the West Coast of the South Island
- 1 September to 14 November West Coast of the South Island