Whitebait – time for change


Opinion – Tight Lines – By Ben Carey.
There is to be a great debate to be had over the next few years.

The subject this time is whitebait, but more importantly the catch limits and the commercial sale of whitebait, a point that was rammed home to me not too long ago by one who has fished for them recreationally all his life.

Whether people realise it or not, whitebait is not classed as a commercial fishery under any quota management system, and because of this, the fishery has become unregulated with no catch limits put in place.

Because whitebait do not come under any quota management system, there’s no obligation to record catches.

A lot is sold to businesses and restaurants – so, in essence, the average Joe Bloggs can become a virtual commercial fisherman overnight, without having to pay a cent towards fishery research or habitat restoration.

While whitebaiting provides a seasonal income for a lot of individuals, how many report or record their catches to give an indication of how many tonnes are being caught each year?

It’s not something I think many fishers would like to share publicly, especially in regard to where they are fishing.

And that is a problem.

How do you determine the sustainability of a fishery when there is no data to work with?

There has recently been a lot of uncertainty and discussion about the actual state and sustainability of the fishery.

On one hand we have fisheries scientists stating that four of these species are ranked as threatened, or in decline. On the other we have some whitebait veterans arguing the fishery has never been better.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) is in the process of coming up with management recommendations, with one option being a licence system requiring a catch diary.

I believe that will give a true indication of how much is being caught – and, given time, we know what the trend is, and if we need to act.

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