Pressure to tidy up whitebaiting rules

A parliamentary select committee wants the rules over customary whitebait fishing tidied up as soon as possible, amid concerns the issue could blow up on the West Coast again this season.

Problems arose two years ago when Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae issued two permits to allow customary fishing on the Hokitika River - just days after the public whitebait season had closed.

At the time, the Department of Conservation said iwi fishing was outside its management.

The West Coast Whitebaiters' Association took up the issue with the parliamentary primary production select committee, but Ngati Waewae said it was a lot of fuss over 5kg of whitebait.

The committee has now released a briefing paper, which says after the 2012 fishing incident, "no action was taken by the responsible authority".

"We are concerned that if they are not swiftly addressed, the issues raised by the West Coast Whitebaiters' Association could lead to friction within the community, and may already be doing so."

The committee said it recognised the challenge of balancing customary fishing with the need to maintain or enhance fish stocks, which had declined significantly.

"We urge the department to pursue a satisfactory solution for all parties, as well as helping whitebait populations towards recovery," if necessary by making regulations under the Conservation Act.

Whitebaiters' association chairman Des McEnaney, of Awatuna, said they were happy with the select committee conclusions.

The association told the select committee a customary fishing event on the Hokitika River in 2012 had ignored responsible practice.

Mr McEnaney told the Westport News that during the incident some whitebaiters fished heavily for about a month after the season ended.

They caught up to about 300kg and were reported to be selling significant portions of it over the counter of a local pub.

They said they were fishing to supply a hui in Kaiapoi.

Mr McEnaney said the one-off event highlighted a serious shortcoming in the legislation and the way whitebaiting was being policed on the West Coast.

 

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