'White gold' back on menu

Colin and Christine Melvin at their whitebaiting stand near the Clutha River mouth yesterday. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Colin and Christine Melvin at their whitebaiting stand near the Clutha River mouth yesterday. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
''The whitebait are just a bonus.''

The region's riverbanks came to life with whitebaiters yesterday as the official season for the wriggling delicacy opened.

Given unseasonably warm and sunny weather in South Otago, Balclutha whitebaiters of 25 years' standing Skin and Beazly (Colin and Christine Melvin) were happy simply to be back in their favourite spot by the Clutha River near Kaitangata.

''You wouldn't care if there were no whitebait in your net on a day like today. Just look at it here,'' Skin said.

Although a little early for the larger shoals to be coming in with the tide, the Melvins were excited to pull in ''about half a pound'' (200g) yesterday lunchtime, which would be made into traditional whitebait patties for dinner, taken in their ''crib''.

That shelter had evolved over the years from a tent, then van, to today's comparatively palatial quarters, with solar and diesel generators, a coal burner, and gas cooking.

One of the pleasures of whitebaiting for the couple was bringing later generations of family through, and several sons, cousins and other relatives now had nearby stands.

Skin said the grandchildren still needed some work though.

''We need to replace those cellphones with fishing rods,'' he said.

Beazly said whitebaiting moved in its own rhythm, meaning after a couple of bad years you would often hit a ''bonanza'' haul.

As the previous high-yielding year was about three years ago, she had high hopes for this season.

''Be nice to get 100pounds (45kg) in. That's about as good as it gets,'' she said.

''It's white gold, isn't it?''

Elsewhere in the region, Department of Conservation rangers were keeping a weather eye on whitebaiters' compliance with regulations.

Doc Murihiku/Southland biodiversity ranger Rose Hanley-Nickolls said people were ''pretty much'' following the rules.

''Any infractions have been minor, and it's really just a matter of applying a few tweaks here and there as everybody gets under way.''

Although yields seemed to be low along her stretch of the Waiau in Fiordland yesterday, people were optimistic about the season ahead, she said.

''There were rumours of a big shoal through [on Tuesday], so everyone's still smiling.''

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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