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Moves to protect Aotearoa’s precious whitebait

Te Whanganui a Tara – Restrictions to whitebaiting regulations will improve the sustainability of threatened species, while ensuring that Kiwis can continue the tradition of catching a feed in their local river into the future, government says.

Whitebait is a valuable part of the indigenous biodiversity of Aotearoa and are taonga and mahinga kai for Māori.

Four of the six New Zealand whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction. Whitebait regulations haven’t been reviewed since the 1990s and changes are long overdue.

The changes fit with the government’s desire to protect, preserve and restore whitebait numbers.

The proposed changes follow two years of engagement, including consultation on proposed regulations which attracted more than 11,500 submissions from around the country.

The immediate impact on the majority of whitebaiters will be minimal. People will still be using the same gear and fishing in the same places when the season opens. They do not affect customary fishing rights.

The Department of Conservation has also been asked to gather more evidence about the state of the whitebait fishery, including further monitoring, scientific assessment and economic analysis.

Work will continue on improving spawning sites, ensuring that national rules recognise fish needs, partnering with mana whenua, and working closely with whitebaiters, conservation groups and others with an interest in whitebait.

Changes will be phased in over three seasons and, from this season starting in September, fishing will be prohibited within 20 metres of structures such as weirs and groynes where fish congregate.

Screens will be the only lawful diversion device and limited to three metre maximum length.

The rule that only one net can be used when fishing from a stand, will be extended to all of New Zealand.

The maximum incursion of fishing gear (excluding stands) into a waterway, will be one-quarter of its width, nationwide.

The minimum fixed distance between fixed fishing gear (not stands) will be 20 metres.

Fishing can only occur in estuaries and near river mouths nationwide. This is already the case on the West Coast.

From next year, the season will be shortened to September 1 to October 30 for all New Zealand. In 2023 the overall length limit for fishing gear of six metres will apply to all of New Zealand.

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