Time for feedback on whitebait rule changes

Whitebaiters fish on the Hokitika River. Photo: Allied Press
Whitebaiters fish on the Hokitika River. Photo: Allied Press
Concerns have been raised about proposed changes to whitebait fishing regulations and members of the public are being urged to have their say at upcoming public consultation meetings.

On January 14, the Department of Conservation released a proposal to ‘‘standardise and improve management of whitebait across New Zealand’’.

Ken Cochrane was a member of the Whitebait Working Group, which was established to help provide the Department of Conservation with information that can help whitebait management, particularly in areas of population health, find out what can be done to restore declined populations and to ensure a sustainable whitebait fishery.

He believed there were aspects of the proposed changes that Southern whitebaiters would not agree with.

He said the proposal of a national standard would not work for all areas, and instead should focus on regional areas.

‘‘It’s probably more important now for whitebaiters to have their say more than ever.’’

‘‘What Doc is proposing, it is frightfully detrimental to whitebaiters on the South coast.’’

Mr Cochrane, who is also regional councillor for Fish and Game Southland, said one way it would impact on Southland whitebaiters was the proposed ban on using sock nets.

‘‘For example, on the Aparima, Oreti and Mataura Rivers, I would virtually guarantee that 99% of people who fish those rivers use sock nets.’’

He was also opposed to the potential requirement that nets may not be used beyond the outer edge of a stand, which he said would ‘‘make whitebait stands in the Southern area unusable’’ in combination with the sock net ban.

Concerns were raised on the West Coast too, and former West Coast Whitebaiters Association president Des McEnaney, who sat on the ministerial working group, said the creation of ‘‘refuges’’ was most contentious.

Between five and 15 West Coast rivers could become whitebait ‘‘refuges’’, yet the West Coast already had 23 rivers designated as whitebait reserves, and a further 40 where special conditions applied. There were no whitebait reserves elsewhere in New Zealand at the moment.

Doc freshwater manager Elizabeth Heeg said the discussion document proposed that whitebait refuges in the long-term were introduced on five to 15 rivers in each region; the number of waterways selected would depend on the size of the region.

She said the reasoning behind the proposed banning of sock nets was because they can be used passively: ‘‘Sock nets are a type of passive fishing gear that many people consider to be a particularly efficient way to catch whitebait. This efficiency can result in catching a large amount of whitebait with minimal effort.’’

They can lead to the death of fish, including non-target species, as these are not cleared from nets sufficiently frequently.

In response to Mr Cochrane’s concern regarding the potential requirement that nets may not be used beyond the outer edge of a stand, she said it was already in place in the West Coast whitebait fishing regulations.

‘‘Where this measure is not in place, the reach of any stand into a waterway can be extended by the length of the net used, facilitating the capture of whitebait, including in areas that may be unreachable by other fishers.’’

Submissions close at 9am on March 2, and Doc will then consider submissions received and develop recommendations for the Minister of Conservation and Cabinet to consider.

-Additionally reported by Laura Mills

Public meetings:

Timaru: January 27, Washdyke Community Squash Lounge
Hokitika: January 30, Hokitika RSA
Invercargill: January 30, Corinthian Convention Centre
Haast: February 4, Heartland Hotel Haast
Dunedin: February 5, Otago Museum, Kakapo room

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