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Next Whitebait Season Should Be Different

As the whitebait season closes for 2020, Forest & Bird is looking for changes before the next season to help our native fish recover.

Whitebait are the juveniles of native freshwater fish. Four of the fish species that make-up whitebait are threatened or in decline, but they are caught in a fishery with few restrictions.

“Our native fish are amazing and they are in real trouble. They need healthy habitats to live in and they need a fishery that gives them a chance to recover,” says Forest & Bird Freshwater Advocate Annabeth Cohen.

"Both fishers and environmentalists want to make sure these fish are here for future generations – both groups want to see things like a catch limit and license in place by next season.”

The Department of Conservation (DOC) ran a consultation on whitebait management in 2020 which shows strong support from both fishers and non-fishers for better rules for managing and monitoring the whitebait fishery.

The Minister of Conservation is expected to make a decision about new whitebait fishing rules before the 2021 whitebait season.

“By next whitebait season we could have some new rules to protect our fish, like licencing so DOC knows how many people are fishing, or a catch limit to make sure people don’t take more than is sustainable.”

Other management options consulted on by DOC include phasing out exports, shortening the season, and creating some river 'refuges’ for whitebait.

“I hope for a future where fish populations are thriving because we didn't wait to put in fishing rules that support long-term freshwater ecosystem improvements."

"Ultimately, if there are plentiful fish there can be plentiful fishing without worry. But we need to see the adult fish upstream returning to abundance before that's possible."

"Our fish face many threats, and the effects of climate change mean we could see a population collapse without much warning. The Minister should implement precautionary changes to protect our precious fish for years to come.” says Ms Cohen.

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