Whitebait season is opening around the country, and Forest & Bird says commercial whitebaiting needs to stop while four of the five native fish species are in danger of extinction.
Forest & Bird’s Freshwater Advocate, Annabeth Cohen says ending the sale of whitebait would help alleviate the pressure on the struggling native fishes.
“It’s time for us as a country to decide if we’re willing to see these precious creatures go the way of the huia, or if we’re prepared to ensure they’re still around beyond our own lifetimes.”
The Department of Conservation's recent report "Conservation status of New Zealand freshwater fishes, 2017" lists three of the whitebait species as 'at risk - declining' and one as 'threatened'.
“Until whitebait and their habitats are thriving, it makes no sense to allow companies to sell these fish for a profit, especially when four out of five of the species are at risk of disappearing forever,” says Ms Cohen.
“We also need better controls on recreational whitebait catches. Most people don’t know there isn't a catch limit for native freshwater fish.”
“It’s time for regional councils and central government to take action on protecting and restoring wetlands and rivers, ending commercial catches, improving water quality, and putting recreational catch limits in place.”
“Regulation isn’t doing much to protect whitebait. Currently, it is illegal to sell trout but not whitebait. Native fish aren’t even protected under the Wildlife Act. New Zealand’s freshwater fish deserve better.”
“Whitebait used to be so plentiful they were caught by the truck-load and used for fertiliser on farms. When we have returned whitebait back to these population levels, we’ll know we’ve done a good job of caring for our native freshwater fish, and their rivers.
Kōaro, shortjawed kōkopu, banded kōkopu, giant kōkopu and inanga are the fish that make up the whitebait catch. They are New Zealand’s migratory galaxiids. They are just five of the dozens of fish species that migrate between fresh water and sea water here every year.