Doc promises greater surveillance as whitebait season opens

Whitebaiters beware: There will be more surveillance of popular whitebaiting spots this season.

The season opens today and Department of Conservation rangers will be focusing on whitebaiters flouting the no fishing at night rule - fishing is allowed only between 5am and 8pm (or 6am and 9pm under daylight saving).

''When we hear about people flouting the rules, such as fishing at night, using oversized and unmanned nets and using more than one net, this is stealing the whitebait fishery from future generations,'' Doc senior ranger Pete Ravenscroft said.

Doc would be targeting popular areas such as the lower Clutha and Taieri Rivers, as there were anecdotal reports of illegal fishing happening there.

Last season, some unmanned nets were seized but no-one was fined. Fishermen could be fined up to $500 for flouting the regulations, he said.

There was also concern because sports shops were reporting an increase in sales of whitebait nets, ''indicating increased pressure on the whitebait fishery''.

From experience, it appeared every third season was a good one, but this year was expected to be only average.

He said the lower Clutha River produced the most whitebait in Otago, but Dunedin people liked to whitebait in the Taieri, Waikouaiti, Kakanui and Shag Rivers.

He hoped whitebaiters would keep a diary of their catches and pass the information on to Doc so it could establish better data on whitebait numbers and whether enhancement work was helping.

A huge effort had been put into enhancing and managing whitebait spawning sites, he said.

About 80km of river banks throughout Otago were now protected for whitebait.

The whitebait season runs until November 30.

rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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