Whitebaiting ranged from 'best ever' to 'poor'

Jim Penno (left), from Galloway, and Dave Ross, from Alexandra, set  their whitebait net on a...
Jim Penno (left), from Galloway, and Dave Ross, from Alexandra, set their whitebait net on a stand on the Okuru River. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.

Did the South Westland whitebaiters have a good season?

It all depends on who you talk to, which river they were on and which part of the season they fished.

Today is the last day of the season and tomorrow those whitebaiters who have not already done so will pack up their stands and head home.

Those who fished the Turnbull, Okuru, Waita, and Haast rivers are likely to be carrying chilly bins fairly full of whitebait.

Those who were on the Arawhata, Waiatoto and Moeraki rivers might have chilly bins with more room for ice.

Annette Mead (65), of Nelson, and her husband Geoffrey have been whitebaiting all their lives and have had a stand near the mouth of the Okuru for 15 years.

Mrs Mead told the Otago Daily Times yesterday the season had been their best - a total catch of more than 300kg in 10 weeks.

''We've had an excellent season - the best season we've ever had in all the time we have been whitebaiting.

''I don't think we will ever see another season like this in our lifetime.''

She was not sure why the season had been so good but the rain in October seemed to help.

''Rain's good for whitebaiting, I reckon.''

However, Duncan Hedges, of Blenheim, said the rain was the reason for poor catches on the Arawhata, where he fishes.

The river had been too dirty to fish for about two weeks of the season, he said.

''All of October it was just about rain every day - flooded rivers and what not.''

Mr Hedges said he had stopped fishing before the end of the season because the river was still full of snow-melt.

''We've had a better season than last year but I would say it would only be called light-moderate,'' he said.

Mr Hedges, from Blenheim, remembered his best season was in the late 1960s, when he took 300kg in one day from the Okuru.

Moana Kerr of the Curly Tree Whitebait Company, which buys whitebait for $65 a kg, reported a season of peaks and troughs, with big catches one day followed by almost nothing the next.

We've thrown all the theories out the window and we've got a lot of whitebaiters scratching their heads and wondering what's going on.''

Department of Conservation biodiversity and area compliance officer Julian Tovey, at Fox Glacier, said South Westland's whitebait population had declined over the years but appeared to have been stable for the last three or four years.

- mark.price@odt.co.nz

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