Changes to whitebaiting regulations are an important step towards a sustainable whitebait fishery.
Whitebait: a taonga we need to conserve
Whitebait are the juveniles of six species of freshwater fish, which return upstream each spring to find suitable adult habitat.
Whitebaiting – the harvesting of whitebait - is a popular activity throughout the country during the spring whitebait migrations. It is part of many New Zealanders’ identity and represents an outdoors activity that enables people to connect with friends, family, and nature. Whitebait fishing is also an important Māori tradition and a critical part of life for many whānau.
Whitebait, however, face a range of threats and pressures, including habitat loss and degradation, poor water quality, impeded fish passage within river systems and fishing pressure. As a result, four of the six whitebait species are considered threatened or at risk.
Better whitebait management is needed to ensure the future of the species and the fishery in Aotearoa New Zealand. This why DOC is in the process of progressively reviewing whitebait regulations as a step towards the goal of ensuring that whitebait thrive and whitebaiting remains a fair and sustainable activity for the current and future generations.
Our goal is to make sure there are healthy populations of whitebait and that people can continue whitebaiting in the long-term. It is part of an ongoing process of reflection and engagement that aims at better fishing practices to ensure the fairness and sustainability of whitebaiting in Aotearoa New Zealand.
DOC’s review of whitebait management began in 2018, involving broad public engagement on ways to improve whitebait management and provide for a sustainable whitebait fishery. The engagement showed strong support for regulation changes, which motivated DOC to revise whitebaiting regulations.
In mid-2018 we asked New Zealanders what they thought about whitebait management. Contributions came from over 3,000 people. 2,875 people gave their views via an online survey, while around 400 people came to drop-in sessions.
A Whitebait Working Group was established, reflecting the range of interests that New Zealanders have in whitebait. The group included people with expertise in mātauranga Māori, fisheries and species management, ecology, habitat restoration, commercial and recreational fishing and policy.
We captured the views of the working group and the public in a report outlining the issues and options for whitebait management. The report was considered by the Minister of Conservation and helped guide our next steps.
Following our 2018/19 engagement, we began a consultation in January 2020 on a discussion document with proposed changes to how we manage whitebait species in New Zealand and specifically on the whitebait fishing regulations.
We received over 11,000 submissions on the discussion document. Consultation submissions showed a broad concern for the sustainability of the whitebait fishery.
The 2020 consultation helped us develop revised whitebait fishing regulations - see below. These changes increase the consistency of rules for whitebaiters across New Zealand and bring the regulations up to date.
The revised regulations outlined below are an important step towards a sustainable whitebait fishery, but are only part of the process to help whitebait thrive.
In addition to these regulation changes, better information on key issues such as the effects of harvest on whitebait populations, changes in the size and nature of whitebait runs, the number of fishers and nature of their fishing activity is needed to ensure better future fishery management.
Over the next two years, DOC will conduct research and consultation with communities to collect valuable information that will lead to more informed decisions in the future.
We aim to continue improving whitebait management over the long term. Strong partnering with mana whenua, whitebaiters, conservation groups, and others with an interest in whitebait will help us build up our data on whitebait and measure the effectiveness of our whitebait management regime.
Public input, particularly from those closely involved with whitebait, is critical.
The 2021 whitebait fishing season opens on 15 August, except for the West Coast where it opens on 1 September.
Changes to the regulations will be progressively rolled out over the next two years starting from the 2021 season. These regulations will not affect the customary fishing rights of Māori and represent a first step towards better management of the whitebait fishery.
Following consultation in 2019/20 on proposed regulation changes, the government decided to implement the changes (below) to current whitebait regulations.
These changes represent an important step towards improved whitebait management and sustainable fishing practices.
New provisions commencing in 2021
- Upstream limits on whitebait fishing, extended from the West Coast, to all Aotearoa New Zealand, defined either by the upstream extent of tidal influence, or, where these are in place, by back pegs on the river bank
- Refuges from fishing for whitebait species adjacent to Abel Tasman and Fiordland National Parks, to supplement those already in place on the West Coast
- Changes to the regulations relating to certain whitebait fishing methods and practices. These include:
- Prohibition of fishing within 20 m of structures such as weirs and groynes where fish congregate.
- Making screens the only lawful diversion device and limit them to 3 m maximum length, except when used from fixed stands.
- Allowing only one net used when fishing from a stand extended to all of New Zealand.
- Nationwide maximum incursion of fishing gear (excluding stands) into a waterway is one-quarter of the waterway’s width.
- Establishing a minimum fixed distance of 20 m between fixed fishing gear (not including stands).
Regulations taking effect from 2022
- A nationally consistent shortened whitebait fishing season of two months (1 Sept-30 Oct).
Regulations taking effect from 2023 (making the West Coast consistent with the rest of the country)
- Implementing a nationwide maximum overall length limit for fishing gear of 6 m.
Current whitebait knowledge
DOC published a summary of current knowledge about whitebait in June 2018:
Supporting documents for engagement 2018/19
- Record of the DOC–Maori subject matter expert workshop, 31 July 2018 (PDF, 673K)
- Terms of reference for the Whitebait Working Group (PDF, 212K)
- Record of the first meeting of the Whitebait Working Group, 20–21 September 2018 (PDF, 577K)
- Record of the second meeting of the Whitebait Working Group, 25–26 October 2018 (PDF, 783K)
- Responses to the tick-box questions included in the survey (responses received after the official end date of 7 January 2019 are included) (PDF, 156K)
- Free-text responses to the online survey used in this engagement process (Excel, 286K)
- Notes taken by DOC staff at 12 drop-in sessions held during this engagement process (PDF, 254K)
- Numbers of participants attending the 12 drop-in sessions (PDF, 63K)
- Media activity identified by DOC during this engagement process (PDF, 306K)
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