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Forest & Bird is calling on New Zealanders to demand better regulations for the endangered native fish that make up the whitebait catch. 

A public consultation document proposing changes to whitebait fishing rules was released today by the Department of Conservation.  

“The options put forward are pitiful and won’t do enough to protect our native endangered fish,” says Forest & Bird Freshwater Advocate, Annabeth Cohen. 

“We have a chance to protect whitebait right now. There must be a catch limit, licence and data on how much fish is caught and where.”  

“Why these options aren’t in the proposed changes makes no sense. All other species commercially fished have a catch limit. Why should whitebait be any different? We are talking about endangered native fish, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.”  

“The Department of Conservation says they don’t have the resources to enforce a catch limit, which is a pathetic excuse. A licencing system could easily include a small fee to fund enforcement.”  

“These fish are an important part of the cultural fabric of New Zealand. We need better rules around whitebait fishing to ensure these precious fish are here for future generations.”   

“Rebuilding damaged and destroyed habitat for whitebait fish to grow up into thriving adult populations is the long-game. Basic fishing rules is what we need now, and they are long overdue. Whitebait regulations haven’t changed for over 20 years, meanwhile four of six whitebait fish species are in decline.”  

“Continuing to catch and sell these threatened animals, with no catch limits, licence or data, could be the final nail in the coffin." 

In a Department of Conservation survey last year, nearly 80% of respondents said they’d like to see a catch limit and 60% said they’d support a fishing licence.” 

“We encourage the public to write a submission and go to their local public meeting. We must demand at the very least a licence, catch limit and data on what is being fished and where.” 


Our native fish 

Kōaro (at risk - declining), shortjaw kōkopu (threatened - nationally vulnerable), banded kōkopu, giant kōkopu (at risk - declining) and īnanga (at risk - declining) are the five migratory galaxiid fish in the whitebait catch. Common smelt is also a native fish that is part of the whitebait catch.  

The Conservation status of New Zealand freshwater fishes 2017 lists the threat status of New Zealand’s freshwater fish. 

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