A freshwater ecologist says most whitebait species will be
extinct by 2050 if they continue to decline at their current
New Zealand freshwater ecologist Mike Joy said four out of
the five whitebait species were threatened and three of those
species had become threatened in the last 10 years.
He said that if the species kept declining at the same rate
they would all be gone by 2050.
"If we don't change what we're doing with intensive farming
and that kind of thing, the fish are going to become rarer
and rarer until we just don't find them anymore.''
It was hard to say how much impact whitebaiting had on the
fish, compared to farming and other things, but Dr Joy said
fishing was "like a nail in the coffin''.
The fish were already in trouble and whitebaiting took away
the juveniles that should be replacing the populations.
He believed whitebaiting restrictions had needed revisiting
for a long time but hadn't been looked at because it would be
political suicide for any government.
He'd been advocating to remove the commercial aspect of
"I think it's fair enough that New Zealanders should have the
right to go and catch whitebait within the regulations. What
really annoys me is that people do it for a living, so they
make money out of destroying something.''
He said a good start would be to give whitebait the same
protection as trout.
It was good that whitebaiting gave people a chance to get out
and appreciate rivers and native fish, but that didn't come
from commercial fishing.
Whitebait are made up of banded kokopu, short-jawed kokopu,
giant kokopu, koaro and inanga. Dr Joy said all but the
banded kokopu were threatened. The short-jawed kokopu was the
only whitebait species threatened a decade ago.
According to a recent Department of Conservation review, 74
per cent of the country's native freshwater fish are now
listed as threatened.
Dr Joy said that was up on 68 per cent in 2009 and 30 per
cent at the first review in 1992.
New Zealand's figures were worse than any other country that
kept such measurements. The global average was 35 to 37 per
Dr Joy said native freshwater fish were like miner's canaries
measuring the health of rivers.
"When we have those sort of stats, then that's showing just
how bad we are in comparison to the rest of the world.''
New Zealand had to fix all of its rivers to save its native
"What we're doing at the moment is, we're wrecking everything
and the West Coast is a really good example.''
The West Coast wetlands were being drained and there was a
huge increase in the amount of farming, which meant more
nutrients and sediment were going into rivers impacting on
Dr Joy is currently on a lecture tour of the country having
won the Charles Fleming Award for his contribution to the
sustainable management and protection of New Zealand's
- By Kim Fulton of the Westport News