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Whitebait partners look for solutions

16 April 2014

Whitebait partners look for solutions

Waikato-Tainui, local marae, councils and agencies are working together to better manage whitebait fisheries at Port Waikato following the compilation of a new report.

The report is the result of an initial scoping project to better understand the complex and inter-related resource management issues around whitebaiting in the lower Waikato River. The area has traditionally been a plentiful source of whitebait but over the years more and more people are seeking to gather the delicacy there.

With more people comes increased pressures for space to build stands, an increase in the number and size of baches and associated pressures such as sewage management, and a growing amount of whitebait being taken.

Stands are structures used for netting whitebait within, or on the banks of, rivers and coastal areas. As efforts to better manage the fishery and related issues are developed, people are being urged to ensure that no new stands or buildings are constructed unless they comply with all relevant district and regional council rules.

The work on the issues at Port Waikato builds on long-standing efforts to protect the health of the river and the whitebait fishery. Those efforts have been given a boost recently by the Waikato River Authority’s decision to set aside $1.5 million over five years for the restoration of habitat that supports whitebait.

Rahui Papa, Chairman of Waikato-Tainui tribal executive – Te Arataura, says: "The Waikato River is regarded as our tupuna and is home to some of our most precious fishery resources which we have a duty to protect and maintain for current and future generations.”

Waikato-Tainui and Waikato Regional Council have also completed a comprehensive Port Waikato whitebait stand survey and the subsequent new report on the issues raised. Those involved with Waikato-Tainui and the regional council in looking at the issues raised by the report include the Huakina Development Trust (representing local marae), the Department of Conservation, the Commissioner of Crown Lands, and Waikato District Council.

Key issues raised in the report include:
• the need to take a look at how a range of whitebait-related issues are managed
• ensuring mandated fishing rights are upheld
• the need to ensure that sewage is not being discharged into the river
• ensuring that rules relating to whitebait stands and baches are followed
• making sure there is a healthy river and a good environment for whitebait at Port Waikato.

Some of the initial actions being taken in response to the report include:
• Regional council staff are talking to the council about options for undertaking additional compliance monitoring next season, particularly with regard to unlawful sewage discharges
• The regional council will, through its long term plan development, look at what extra measures may be required over the next three years
• Waikato-Tainui, the Waikato River Authority and the regional council will look at opportunities for habitat restoration to improve whitebait spawning areas.

Waikato-Tainui, councils and agencies will also be discussing with the local community what more can be done to address the issues identified in the report.

“Working alongside whaanau, marae, councils and agencies to address the issues identified in the report will enhance communication and ensure we find solutions which are suitable to everyone,” says Mr Papa.

Regional council chairperson Paula Southgate said discussions with marae and the wider local community would be an important part of the process for moving forward. “We want practical, workable solutions to the issues that have been identified.

“The regional council will be discussing the issues raised in the report when it reviews its work programmes for its next Long Term Plan, and when it reviews the regional plan, starting in 2015.”

The survey by Waikato-Tainui and the regional council has found there are around 870 whitebait stands in the area compared with about 500 stands registered with the regional council, as is required. The survey has also identified seven waahi tapu (sacred sites), three whitebait spawning grounds and around 40 kilometres of actively used customary Maori fishing areas alongside the riverbank where stands may or may not be present.

Of the 870 stands recorded by the survey, many appear to not comply properly with the standards in the regional council’s permitted activity rule in the Waikato Regional Plan relating to maximum size and a minimum distance from other stands.

“All parties involved are committed to finding a pathway forward that protects the river and whitebait stocks, ensures fair fishing for all and promotes the following of the correct district and regional council rules when building whitebait stands and related structures,” said Ms Southgate.

“Going forward, the regional council’s intention is to initially focus on talking to people about any activity or structure which appears dangerous, unsafe or unsanitary.”

It is intended to hold information meetings for Port Waikato people shortly to discuss the issues in the report.

The full report is available online at http://www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/TR201318/


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