Limitless Whitebait Fishing Continues While Native Fish Face Extinction


“The changes to whitebait fishing announced today are fluff around the edges. They won’t bring back native fish from breaking point,” says Forest & Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen.

Today, the Minister for Conservation announced gear changes for the whitebait fishery in 2021 and 2023, and a shorter season to be implemented in 2022.

“The most basic controls for a fishery are requiring a fishing license, establishing a catch limit, and having better data collection, but they are missing from the changes announced today. The essentials of fishery management are nowhere to be seen.” says Ms Cohen.

“Right now, we are as far as we can possibly be from a sustainable fishery.”

“Introduced species, like trout, have a more regulated fishery than our threatened native species.”

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Today’s announcement by the Minister for Conservation is a major disappointment and comes after thirty years of loose management in a largely unregulated fishery.

The last two years have seen extensive consultation with thousands of people speaking up in surveys, stakeholder advisory meetings, hui, public events, and through formal submissions.

“What most people have requested in consultation processes, over and over again, are the same basic controls any legitimate fishery has: a catch limit, fishing license, and some form of data collection,” says Ms Cohen.

“Native freshwater fish face daily threats of habitat destruction, pollution, predation, and the effects of climate change.”

“The Minister for Conservation and DOC need to stop wasting time on fluff around the edges and examine real management options that can actually help bring back our threatened native species, and restore the freshwater ecosystems we all depend on.”

A look at DOC’s changes:

More gear restrictions do very little to protect threatened and at risk fish species since there is still no limit to how much fish can be caught.

A shorter season will be the one and only major improvement to provide more protection for the fishes. This will provide more time for fish to migrate upstream without facing fishing nets and screens. The shorter season should have been implemented for 2021, not waited another year.

Two new refuges proposed (Abel Tasman and Fiordland) are nice to have, but they won’t help the baby migratory galaxiids swimming up streams in the rest of New Zealand.


  1. Every whitebaiter I know moans about not catching the hauls of whitebait they used to. They say it is not worth the time spent.
    I cannot believe anyone can be so thick as to believe they can go on removing immature fish from a population and still expect it to thrive.
    All other fishery regulations are designed at protecting immature fish. You cannot take snapper, flounder, tarakihi, trevally, hapuka etc unless they have reached breeding age and size. Why the hell are inanga the exception?


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