The government has announced new rules for whitebait fishing, including a shorter season and changes to the gear allowed, with the regulations to roll out over three seasons.
In an announcement made on 2 July, acting conservation minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said the changes to the regulations will improve the sustainability of the threatened species while ensuring that Kiwis can continue the tradition of catching a feed in their local river into the future.
Four of the six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction.
“While fishing pressure is a contributing factor, habitat loss, environmental degradation, impeded fish passage within river systems, loss of spawning sites and introduced fish species are also impacting whitebait numbers,” Verrall said.
Whitebait regulations were last reviewed in 1990s and Verrall said that changes were long overdue.
“We want to ensure the whitebait fishery survives and thrives, for all New Zealanders, while maintaining long-held traditions and encouraging responsible fishing practices.”
She added that the planned changes fit the Government’s manifesto commitment to protect, preserve, and restore New Zealand’s national heritage and biodiversity.
“The immediate impact on the majority of fishers will be minimal. People will still be using the same gear and fishing in the same places when the season opens.
“The changes that are being made will better align practices nationwide, improve the long-term sustainability of the fishery and support recreational, low volume fishers. They do not affect customary fishing rights.
“Two years of engagement on improving whitebait management, including the consultation on regulatory changes, has shown how passionate New Zealanders are about whitebait and the whitebait fishery.”
Verrall added that the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been asked to gather more evidence about the state of whitebait fishery, including “further monitoring, scientific assessment and economic analysis. Better information is essential to ensure the whitebait management programme is effective and any need for further changes to the programme or regulations are identified.”
Changes will be phased in over three seasons.
Changes for 2021 whitebait season:
- Fishing will be prohibited within 20 metres of structures such as weirs and groynes where fish congregate.
- Screens will be the only lawful diversion device and limited to three-metre maximum length.
- The rule that only one net can be used when fishing from a stand, will be extended to all of New Zealand.
- The maximum incursion of fishing gear (excluding stands) into a waterway, will be one-quarter of its width, nationwide.
- The minimum fixed distance between fixed fishing gear (not stands) will be 20 metres.
- Fishing can only occur in estuaries and near river mouths nationwide. This is already the case on the West Coast.
- More whitebait refuges in waterbodies that flow out of Abel Tasman and Fiordland national parks will help to protect whitebait populations, similar to whitebait refuges already in place on the West Coast.
- The proposal is to extend the current exclusion in place from Yates Point to Puysegur Point, to also include the South Coast as far as Waitutu River mouth. Martins Bay (even though it is within Fiordland National Park) is not being proposed as a refuge.
Changes for 2022 whitebait season:
- The season to shorten to 1 Sept – 30 October for all New Zealand
Changes for 2023 whitebait season:
- Overall length limit for fishing gear of six metres for all New Zealand