Future of whitebait in doubt

By Regan Paranihi

Forest & Bird is calling on the government to take urgent action to protect native fish as the whitebait season comes to an end for the year.

Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen says, "The fishing season may be over, but our precious whitebait species face continued and serious threats.  These fish are our taonga and it is our responsibility to keep streams clean enough for them."

She says whitebait have a precarious existence due to the poor quality of water, wetlands being drained and barriers inhibiting migration.  "Most people find it easy to forget that the tiny and transparent whitebait are juveniles that actually grow into adult fish," says Ms. Cohen. "The survival of adult whitebait upstream is critical if we want a future for the species, let alone the fishery."

Cohen says neutral fish passages continue to be blocked and as a result, their breeding habitat is being destroyed or degraded.  She's calling on regional councils to be proactive in ensuring the protection of remaining whitebait habitats from mining, forestry and farming industries. 

The government is being urged to take action before it’s too late.

"This is an urgent situation and New Zealanders need to have a conversation about what we can do to save these fishes," says Cohen, "At the moment regulation is minimal and there is no limit on the catch.  For species which are more threatened than little-spotted kiwi, that's absurd."