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The Department of Conservation is warning whitebaiters to play by the rules ahead of the season starting next week, after a man caught whitebaiting on the Mataura River had his net seized for jumping the gun.
The whitebait season begins on Wednesday and runs until November 30 in all of New Zealand except the West Coast and Chatham Islands.
The West Coast season runs from September 1 to November 14 inclusive.
Fishing for the tiny delicacy is only allowed between 5am and 8pm or between 6am and 9pm during daylight saving.
Strict size limits govern the size of whitebait nets and other fishing gear, and no fishing gear can cover more than one-third of a water channel's width.
Doc biodiversity ranger Rose Hanley-Nickolls urged whitebaiters to play by the rules this year.
''The whitebait regulations are there to protect our whitebait species and to ensure that future generations can take part in this classic Kiwi pastime.
''The regulations can be found on the Doc website and people should feel free to contact their local Doc office if they have any questions.
''People should also remember there are different rules for whitebaiting on the West Coast, so they should check up on these if they are heading over to the Coast this spring.''
Ms Hanley-Nickolls said Doc rangers had already seized a net after a person was discovered whitebaiting on the Mataura River this year. The offence carried a fine of up to $5000 in addition to the forfeiture of equipment, she said.
Keen whitebaiter Don Kindley, of Albert Town, said he was looking forward to heading out to his longstanding spot on the Turnbull River, about 15km south of Haast on the West Coast.
Mr Kindley said his catch had remained fairly steady over the past 25 years and he had not noticed a decline in numbers at his spot.
''It's a great tradition for everyone to get over there and there's great fellowship among whitebait stand-holders.
''We have wonderful days, you have a few cool drinks, you cook up some nice meals - it's just special.''