The Department of Conservation (DOC) is urging whitebaiters to stick to the rules during whitebait season which kicks off today, in order to protect some of the threatened species.
DOC freshwater scientist Jane Goodman says the whitebaiting regulations, which cover net type and size and permitted fishing times and locations, prevent overfishing and allow whitebait to move upstream to grow into adults.
"Habitat degradation is one of the key causes of declining whitebait populations," says Goodman.
"We encourage people to get in behind local initiatives to restore spawning and adult whitebait habitat and to reduce their impact on our freshwater environment."
Kōkopu. Source: Auckland Council
Whitebait are the juveniles of five species of native fish that grow into adults ranging from 10-60 cm long. Four of the five species are categorised as either threatened or at risk.
The shortjaw kōkopu is threatened, while the giant kōkopu, kōaro and inanga are at risk-declining. The banded kōkopu is not threatened.
This year DOC has worked with NIWA to develop and publish national fish passage guidelines for structures in waterways to prevent barriers to freshwater fish migration.
“If people see overhanging culverts or other barriers that stop whitebait moving upstream, they are asked to please contact their local DOC or Regional Council office,” says Goodman.
DOC will be patrolling whitebaiting sites and talking to whitebaiters throughout the season to ensure people are complying with regulations.
Illegal whitebaiting carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and equipment can be seized.
On mainland New Zealand the whitebaiting season runs from August 15 to November 30, except on the West Coast of the South Island, where it runs from September 1 to November 14.