29 Aug 2014

Westport whitebaiting era is over

7:47 am on 29 August 2014

A long tradition of whitebaiting on Westport wharf has come to an end after the council faced the threat of prosecution.

The Buller District Council has taken what it calls a difficult decision after lawyers advised it was at risk of multi-million dollar fines.

A long tradition of whitebaiting on Westport wharf has come to an end after the council faced the threat of prosecution.

A long tradition of whitebaiting on Westport wharf has come to an end after the council faced the threat of prosecution. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Legal advice has determined the Council is the controller of all the white baiting stations and that they are places of work for the purposes of the Health and Safety Act.

In other words, the council could easily be prosecuted in the event of any accident.

A recent inspection of the stations also showed their condition could be sufficient grounds for prosecution.

With penalties of up to $3 million Buller mayor Garry Howard said the council had little option with fines ranging from $600,000 to $3 million and up to five years prison.

"So it's a considerable risk and liability you can't insure against."

He said he is extremely mindful of the tradition of whitebaiting on the wharf and he knows the decision will not go down well.

A temporary ban has been in force for some time, while the matter was resolved, but this final decision seems to be the end of the line.

President of the West Coast Whitebaiters' Association, Desmond McEnaney, said the strength of feeling cannot be underestimated.

Spokesperson for the Wesport Underwharf Whitebaiters group, Paul Bonisch, said he is bitterly disappointed at the decision. He said it comes as a blow as they had hoped to still be allowed access to the non-operational areas of the wharf.