15 Jan 2020

Proposed whitebait rules 'a good step forward' - West Coast whitebaiters

1:22 pm on 15 January 2020

The government's proposed changes to whitebaiting rules are largely good - apart from plans to designate nearly all West Coast rivers as refuges, the West Coast Whitebaiters Association says.

Young inanga (Galaxias maculatus) make up most of the whitebait runs in New Zealand.

Young inanga (Galaxias maculatus) make up most of the whitebait runs in New Zealand. Photo: CC-BY-NC Ngā Manu Nature Images

A shake-up of the whitebaiting rules is on the cards, with the government unveiling proposals yesterday aimed at saving four species threatened by extinction.

The changes out for consultation included a shorter season and establishing safe havens in rivers for spawning, however catch limits, commercial sale bans and licensing were not being considered.

Environmentalists have called for even stronger regulation, but whitebaiters themselves took a different stance.

West Coast Whitebaiters Association president Cheryl Riley told RNZ's Summer Report the changes were largely good, but the West Coasters took issue with one particular proposal.

"We're very pleased that the West Coast whitebaiting rules are going to be carried out through the rest of the country. Our rules are far more stringent and we adhere to them - we're quite well behaved actually," she said.

"It certainly represented the hard work of people before me. I thought it was really a good step forward until I got down to the rivers on the West Coast marked for what the minister is calling whitebait refuges."

She said almost every main river on the West Coast was marked for possible closure for up to 10 years, or even permanently.

"They're absolutely crazy as far as I'm concerned," she said.

"It would be absolute anarchy if the Hokitika River was closed to us because it has over 70 stands, and that amounts to twice that number of fishers as well as twice that number of top-netters and scoopers on that one river.

"As it stands, total control of the rivers is in the hands of the minister who is able to close the rivers with the stroke of a pen, without consultation - nothing."

She suggested other solutions could better help the whitebait species.

"We've carried out our own survey and handed the results to a whitebait researcher ... and we've proved that there's no evidence of a decline in the juvenile population.

"There is evidence of a decline in the adult population which is predated on especially by introduced brown trout 365 days a year."

The researcher who looked into the study - University of Canterbury biologist Mike Hickford, who has researched whitebait for about 17 years - also suggested habitat protection would mean the changes were not needed.

"Habitat has a huge effect on the ability of these species to make it through their life history, probably more so than the fishery itself," he said.

He said water quality, stream restoration, and maintenance and improvement of adult and spawning habitats all have an effect.

"We also need to address all of those things if we want the public to believe that the whitebait fishery is sustainable," he said.

"There are enough options in there I think that would really make a difference to the impact the fishery itself has on the species."

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