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Whitebait safe havens

A WHITEBAIT review was announced last week for whitebait management in New Zealand.

Several Gisborne and northern Hawke's Bay rivers are included in proposed whitebait safe havens for the length of the river or a part of it, including Waikari River.

Department of Conservation representatives said four of the six whitebait species were in decline and either threatened or at risk of extinction — giant kokopu, shortjaw kokopu, koaro and inanga.

The major threats to their survival include habitat degradation, poor quality spawning sites, poor water quality, obstacles to fish passage such as poorly designed culverts within river systems and in some areas, heavy fishing pressure.

A key aim of the whitebait review is to ensure whitebait populations are healthy.

It also seeks to identify what can be done to restore them in areas where they have declined, and identify what is needed to ensure a sustainable whitebait fishery.

The review includes a discussion document with proposed changes to the way the whitebait fishery is managed.

This follows engagement that took place in 2018/19, where 90 percent of respondents to a DoC survey on whitebait management said changes were needed for a sustainable whitebait fishery.

The discussion document has proposals to standardise the rules for whitebaiting in New Zealand; increase the equity of whitebait catching opportunities; phase out whitebait exports; and create refuges in some waterways — or parts of waterways — where whitebait is excluded, to provide a safe haven for whitebait species and help improve their populations.

In the discussion document, sites around the country are proposed as possible safe havens for whitebait species, including rivers in northern Hawke's Bay such as Waikari River, Aropaoanui River and Waipataki Stream.

The discussion document proposes several options for the length of time that a river — or a part of a river — could be a whitebait refuge.

Now DoC is seeking feedback about these proposals.

Submissions can be made online and there is a public drop-in session scheduled for February 5 at the Napier Conference Centre, where people can ask DOC questions about the proposals.

Feedback from the consultation will be used to develop final recommendations to the Minister of Conservation for her and Cabinet's consideration.

For some time, Wairoa Department of Conservation have worked to identify spawning sites around the district.

Where possible, they have encouraged protection of these sites with more fencing.

In some situations, the spawning sites have been enhanced by using hay bales to create a friendlier habitat for spawning.

RULE CHANGE: Roger Brown and John Parfitt whitebaiting near the cut in 2015. File picture
THREAT OF EXINCTION: New Zealand's iconic delicacy, whitebait, is on the ‘at risk list' as numbers decline and whitebaiters are being urged to be responsible and fish by the rules. File picture