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Whitebait could this be your last fritter?

Mon, 11 Oct 2004

Whitebait could this be your last fritter?

With whitebait prices at $99 per kg in downtown Auckland, have you ever wondered why this delicacy demands such an extravagant price? Kids in the 1940's caught whitebait by the bucket to earn a bit of pocket money. So what has brought about such an exorbitant price increase for these tiny morsels that once were so abundant?

Traditional whitebaiters continue to enjoy and practise annual netting of these tiny fish from our rivers. However, the demise of them has been attributed largely to loss of habitat. Whitebait are the juveniles of six native freshwater fish (five of these are from the Galaxidae family) and their numbers are vastly depleted. The young of the inanga, one of the Galaxidae, usually make up 90% of the annual whitebait catch.

Whitebait spend half of their life growing to adult size while in our freshwater streams. In the autumn, they migrate towards the sea to spawn (lay their eggs). The larvae are then carried out to sea where they grow into the delectable whitebait that we all know! On their return to freshwaters in the springtime, they are sometimes caught and harvested by keen whitebaiters.

Care and protection of these spawning grounds has to be a high priority if we want to see the continuation of both a popular recreational pastime and the consumption of whitebait fritters! Our native fish habitat and breeding grounds are being depleted owing to misuse and neglect. Much of it can be attributed to pollutants entering the waterways; livestock grazing and trampling streamside margins; land development; and barriers to fish migration.

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However, all is not lost! The Royal Society of New Zealand's National Waterways Project and the Whitebait Connection Programme are helping schools and communities to become knowledgeable stewards of our local streams and rivers. Both are holistic, action-based environmental education programmes and focus on restoring and enhancing water quality and fish passages in our streams and rivers. They are funded by the government through the Ministry of Education's LEOTC Fund and DOC's Biodiversity Advice Fund.

For information about whitebait go to:

http://nwp.rsnz.org/content/inanga_spawning.doc

ENDS

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