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As whitebait season ends, Forest & Bird is calling for action to protect endangered native fish before it’s too late.  

Four of the fish species in the whitebait catch are in trouble. They are īnanga (at risk - declining), kōaro (at risk - declining), giant kōkopu (at risk - declining), and shortjaw kōkopu (threatened - nationally vulnerable).  

“We need rules that protect whitebait. There are at least a dozen management options that would be better than what is currently in place, which is close to nothing,” says Forest & Bird Freshwater Advocate, Annabeth Cohen. 

“It’s truly baffling that there is no catch limit, license, or monitoring for the sale of these endangered animals. It is a free-for-all on how much of these endangered fish can be caught,” says Ms Cohen.  

“There are already some rivers closed to whitebaiting on the West Coast, and this kind of restriction should be considered around the country where populations are low or in decline.” 

“There’s also good reason to consider a shorter whitebait season. Fishing in August and September could mean better survival for kōaro and the three kōkopu species as they appear to migrate in higher numbers in October and November.” 

In a Department of Conservation survey of nearly 3,000 people this year, 90% of respondents said the whitebait fishery should be managed more sustainably.  

“The Government and the Department of Conservation need to improve this dismal situation as quickly as possible. There is overwhelming public support for better whitebait rules.” 

Whitebait season closes tomorrow for the West Coast, and everywhere else on 30 November 2019. 

Forest & Bird was a member of the Department of Conservation’s Whitebait Working Group and asked for proposed management options to include a moratorium on commercial fishing. Public consultation on management options is expected in early 2020.

Public support for whitebait management:  

A Department of Conservation survey of 2,870 people in May 2019 showed overwhelming public support for a more sustainable whitebait fishery.  

Respondents mostly agreed with the use of many management options, including the following results: 

  • Thinks DOC should do something to make the fishery more sustainable: 90%. 
  • Thinks whitebait fishing is unsustainable in their area: 58% 
  • Thinks whitebait fishing is unsustainable nationwide: 68% 
  • Agrees there should be a license to fish: 60% 
  • Agrees there should be a catch limit: 77% 
  • Agrees with temporary closure of some rivers: 69% 
  • Agrees with permanently closing some rivers: 56% 
  • Agrees with a shorter fishing season: 57% 

Agrees with a ban on commercial fishing: 67% 

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