Whitebait fritters are a nationally iconic delicacy. But if we aren't careful, soon there may not be enough of the fish left to fill those fritters.
'Whitebait' is really just a catch all term for the juveniles of six species of fish. Five of these are migratory galaxiids, specifically inanga, banded kōkopu, giant kōkopu, kōaro and shortjaw kōkopu. The sixth species is common smelt. Recently, three of these species were updated to the threat status of "at risk/declining" and a fourth being labeled as threatened. It’s not surprising then, that in a 2018 nationwide survey, 90% of respondents said changes were needed to make New Zealand’s whitebait fishery sustainable.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage believes the answer is through regulation and has made a number of proposals which are currently open to public submission. These include the creation of whitebait refuges, removing traps from nets, and shortening the whitebait fishing season.
Bronwyn spoke to dedicated conservationist Hans Rook about his thoughts on the sustainability of whitebait fisheries, as well as the proposed regulations. Rook has worked in conservation for 42 years, and has been involved in the creation and protection of whitebait spawning sites since 1987. His unique approach has seen the Hawke’s Bay become the only place in the country to have an increasing whitebait population.
He began by telling us about the life cycle of the fish species that we know as whitebait.