Whitebait fishing season

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Whitebait fishing season

Wednesday 15th August marks the start of another whitebait fishing season for areas other than the West Coast of the South Island. The West Coast whitebait season starts on the 1st of September.

Whitebaiters are reminded that Department of Conservation (DOC) staff will be patrolling fishing sites to check that people are abiding by the regulations. DOC freshwater fish specialist, Jane Goodman said today that the regulations are in place to protect whitebait species and therefore the fishery so it can be enjoyed by future generations.

“Whitebait are a variety of native fish species that spend six months at sea and then make their way up rivers and streams. Inanga are the most common species, but whitebaiters may also capture the young of giant kokopu, shortjaw kokopu, koaro and banded kokopu. Shortjaw kokopu and giant kokopu are described as threatened species. The regulations are designed to ensure that enough young fish get upstream to mature and subsequently create new whitebait for the future,” Miss Goodman said.

Whitebaiters are being reminded to clean nets and other gear between waterways to prevent spreading didymo (Didymosphenia geminata) and other aquatic pests during this year’s whitebait season. Didymo has not yet been found in North Island rivers. However all rivers should be treated as if they are infected with didymo as it is difficult to detect when not in bloom.

Other pest species (such as pest fish and aquatic weeds) are present in some North Island waterways and can also have negative impacts on whitebait. It is therefore crucial that all freshwater users clean their gear between waterways to protect freshwater biodiversity.

DOC and Biosecurity New Zealand urge all freshwater users to help stop the spread of all aquatic pests by taking simple precautions when moving between waterways. All equipment used in freshwater should be cleaned between waterways using the approved ‘check, clean, dry’ cleaning methods. The cleaning methods used for didymo will also kill other aquatic pests.

The season lasts until 30th November everywhere except the West Coast of the South Island, where the season ends on the 14th November. Fishing is permitted only between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. or between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. when daylight saving comes into effect in October.

“Generally speaking, whitebaiters observe the regulations and help us keep this fishery sustainable. The regulations provide for fines of up to $5,000, so fishers should be aware of what is permitted. Pamphlets outlining information on the regulations can be obtained from DOC offices and sports shops,” Miss Goodman said.

Protect our waterways – check, clean, dry whitebaiting gear
Nets and other items made of absorbent material can be decontaminated by soaking in a 5% solution of dishwashing liquid or nappy cleaner for as long as it takes to thoroughly saturate the item, plus for at least an additional minute to kill didymo cells trapped deep within the cracks, crevices and absorbent parts of the item. Non-absorbent items such as tyres, trailers and buckets can be soaked or sprayed with the above cleaning solutions for at least one minute.
Dilute seawater such as found in whitebaiting areas is ineffective at killing didymo. Whitebaiters who prefer to decontaminate their gear with salt should use a 2% by volume salt solution (saltier than seawater) prepared by adding one small cup (200 mls) of table salt to water to make 10 litres. Soak for as long as it takes to thoroughly saturate the item, plus for at least an additional ten minutes.
Other options for decontaminating gear include soaking in hot water kept above 45 °C for at least 20 minutes (longer for absorbent items), freezing until solid or drying. Although drying will kill didymo, slightly moist didymo can live for months. To ensure didymo cells are dead by drying, the entire item must be completely dry to the touch, inside and out, then left dry for at least 48 hours before use.
If cleaning or drying is not practical, whitebaiters must restrict their gear to a single waterway.

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