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What if there were only 34 31 more whitebait harvests left?

Written By: - Date published: 7:15 am, August 20th, 2019 - 66 comments
Categories: Conservation, disaster, farming, sustainability, water - Tags: , ,

Three years ago I put up a post What if there were only 34 more whitebait harvests left? It was based on this graphic by freshwater fish expert Stella McQueen that suggests whitebait will be extinct by 2050.

From the post,

“We’ve seen this increase in a number of our fresh water fishes becoming endangered. So 1990 20% of our forty native fishes were endangered. Now around 75% of them are endangered. We need to protect them so that they can be there for the future”.

– Al Fleming, Forest and Bird.

Some twitter commentary from this week hit the nail on the head,

@hardsell,
 
How do you measure absolute stocks, rather than just species makeup by region? Commercial fishing can be reported, but not recreational volumes
 
@grahamsurrey,
You’ve hit the nail on the head there. In the whitebait fishery recreational and commercial takes are one and the same, given that there’s no restriction on the amount that a ‘recreational’ whitebaiter can catch and legally sell. It effectively incentivises greed.
 
What’s the solution? I reckon banning the commercial sale of whitebait is a no-brainer. Adopt the same rules as for trout. If you want a feed go and catch it yourself. Continuing the commercial sale of threatened species with no quotas or records of catch volumes is crazy
 
Meanwhile, the National Party Extinction Machiavellian are living up to their reputation, telling porkies and encouraging Coasters to literally and figuratively eat their kids’ futures.
 
 

Eugenie Sage’s Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill restricts whitebaiting in conservation areas. Responding to National’s ‘mischief-making‘,

“There are absolutely no plans to ban whitebaiting,” Ms Sage said. 

“The Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill does enable areas of conservation land to be closed to whitebaiting.

“That means native fish can have some rivers and streams where they can swim upstream and spawn without ending up in a net and a whitebait patty.

If National weren’t busy politicking New Zealand could be having a discussion about how people can be supported to transition to making a living from enterprises that regenerate nature not destroy it.

Managing native fisheries is critical, and giving DOC more tools to do that makes sense when facing multiple extinctions. Ultimately we need to start respecting the mana of all waterways, and restore and maintain their health. If we’re not going to ban whitebaiting while the stocks recover, maybe we should ban dairy farming along waterways instead.

More from the 2016 post,

We are living in a time of unparalleled environmental destruction: in one generation most of our freshwater fish have made the threatened species list and unless we act quickly they will be all but gone in another generation. As with most other environmental problems there is a lag period and we are now seeing the impacts of previous decades of unsustainable land-use hit home. Even if we stop the destruction right now and start protecting our freshwater ecosystems, these species’ declines will continue for some time.

To save our freshwater heritage we need amendments made to the freshwater fisheries regulations and to the Wildlife Act, and we must have effective regulations put in place in the agricultural sector. Government-employed and funded freshwater scientists’ hands are tied with political tape, meaning these changes must come from the people.

So rise up all those who want their grandchildren to see native fish and have swimmable rivers. Target the environment, fisheries, State-owned enterprises and conservation ministers, councils and Fonterra and tell them we refuse to accept the loss of our fish and our rivers.

We can have a strong farming industry and clean waters but not when the emphasis is on unlimited increases in production. There is a limit to what the land can produce sustainably and what waste the rivers can assimilate and that point has long since been passed in many parts of New Zealand.

Mike Joy and Amber McEwan, freshwater ecologists

66 comments on “What if there were only 34 31 more whitebait harvests left?”

  1. I saw one old codger on the news almost in tears saying he's vehemently opposed to this legislation because he wants his grandchildren to be able to go whitebaiting.  Sometimes the amount of cognitive dissonance a human can exhibit while still being able to breathe, eat etc like normal is just plain astonishing.

    • Muttonbird 1.1

      There's a peculiar kind of selfishness about some people.

      What he really means is he wants to be able to go white bating with his grandchildren.

      Closing parts of the fishery now might mean he's unable to before for he's dead. That is a greater driver than wanting his adult grandchildren to be able to go whitebaiting after he's gone. It is likely he doesn't care about that – these people never do.

      My advice to the teary old codger is to take his grandchildren to the Fox River clean up. There they might learn something.

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    Sarah Dowie claims it's "sneaky".

    Breathtaking.

  3. Robert Guyton 3

    Save the whitebait – practice "catch and release".
    Personally, I think National are making a big mistake here. Public sentiment is heavily on the side of conserving these native fishes and the noise from the whitebait’s will strengthen that concern for the fishery. As well, most whitebait’s know there’s a need for regulating the activity and will see through the hype and misinformation. They’re pretty canny, the baiters.
    National’s chosen the wrong creature as poster-fish for their campaign.

    • Rapunzel 3.1

      LOL not too many NZers will be missing out, we are given some up here in the North from the South brought up by those who can and are spending many, many $$$ on it  We aren't immediate receivers of it but it comes via a third party, older person, who we give fresh fish to. I doubt any much or even any part of the high prices that can be received are ever seen by IRD.

    • Robert Guyton 3.2

      "whitebaiters" auto-corrects to "whitebait's" on my machine. I don't often notice the intervention, expecting none.

  4. Chris T 4

    Just reading the bill from the link, there doesn't seem anything overly bad about it that the Nats should go on about.

    Does seem a tad using a sledge hammer to open a nut, but there you go.

  5. Ad 5

    Needless expenditure of parliamentary time and effort.

    Just decrease the catch limit grams every year, or month. Like most other fish.

    Regulation already fine. If needed you could even license the fishers, like fly fishing.

    • gsays 5.1

      All the regulations in the world don't mean a thing without enforcement.

      Are you aware of a receipt being generated when whitebait changes hands in exchange for cash?

      Do you imagine whitebait being declared as an income stream* to IRD?

      *I can't have Robert getting all the quality puns in this thread.

    • New view 5.2

      Ad. I’m with you on this. It would be no different to the rules around taking shell fish and enforced in the same way. Most comments here suggest that all baiters are mindless greedy people who would pillage the river until empty. Of course some might. Just like those caught with sacks of undersized Paua. And greed covers all races. The other side of that story is that these bait fishermen have been been doing it for a long time and are in an ideal position to work with Doc in monitoring the fisheries. Wouldn’t it be better to work with them to replenish these rivers than to legislate. It’s something  this country does a lot of but in my opinion is often done badly. 

      • weka 5.2.1

        What legislation allows DOC to do that, and how would you prevent National from reversing any policy developed?

        I don't think all whitebaiters are greedy. I think the system allows people to take more than their fair share, and some whitebaiters are part of a culture that thinks DOC is bad and won't read the science.

        If you look at the first tweet in the post and read the whole, short thread, it's a good example of denial or ignorance of the science. Hard for DOC to work with that (although I do think there are issues on DOC's side as well, generally, because they tend to silo themselves off from the public at times).

        • New view 5.2.1.1

          The baiters have to register their spot now as I understand it. Just like duck shooters on the river. Why can’t limits and information sharing be applied as they do there. As for the old codger. I saw that clip and didn’t see any body ask him what his catches were like where he was baiting. Everyone's perception of the clip is relying on how the situation was portrayed. It may have been spot on and maybe it wasn’t. Do you believe everything you read and see is portrayed in context. 

          • weka 5.2.1.1.1

            What clip?

            The little bits I read about the Bill are that DOC want better tools for regulating a range of native freshwater fish issues. Re the WB specificaly I would guess that having to control stand by stand, or even river by river, is not particularly efficient.

            I also think the situation is so serious that we are beyond adjusting limits. The freshwater scientists watching the species collapse are saying we need an outright ban for a number of years to let stocks recover and to allow time to restore waterways outside of conservation. The Bill is a big compromise on that.

            Ad and yourself can assert that the tools already exist, but I'm still not seeing it.

  6. gsays 6

    Sadly, in answer to the question about 31 seasons left, I can almost hear hands being rubbed together in glee, with the thought that the price is going to go up and up.

    What you have proposed above is science, and the defence of whitebaiting is an emotional arguement.

    It's like no-one has read The Lorax by Dr. Suess let alone Jared Diamond's Collapse.

    Looking at Wellington I see a lack of pollies willing to take on the whitebaiters.

  7. esoteric pineapples 7

    Let's stop calling them "whitebait" to start with and give the five species their actual Maori names. "Whitebait" is a perfect description of the ignorant colonial attitude to the species – a bunch of white fish that are generically called "white bait"

  8. mauī 8

    "…New Zealand could be having a discussion about how people can be supported to transition to making a living from enterprises that regenerate nature not destroy it."

    Such a great line that.

    It seems our cultural relationship with these little guys is totally disrespectful. Māori would have put a rahui on this taonga long ago.

  9. mac1 9

    I had a colleague, a teacher of science and mathematics, who bemoaned the fact that he could no longer catch the fish he used to catch in a particular bay. "I used to be able to fill the bottom of my dinghy with fish, " he said. I said back, as a teacher of history, "Do you think there might be a connection between the two?"

    "You know," he replied, "I never thought of that!"

    • weka 9.1

      I've come across this too. It's a startling phenomenon, but I suspect we all do it. How many people are on board with climate change now that weren't ten years ago despite the scientific evidence being in the public domain for decades?

  10. Stuart Munro. 10

    I expect the role of bush in whitebait lifecycles is underestimated. The runs early last century were epic, supported presumably by innumerable creeks and rivulets and forest detritus that comparatively bare farmland does not provide.

    But if we're going to rebuild whitebait stocks there should be hatcheries and live release until stocks recover – we did that for trout, we can do it for whitebait.

    • weka 10.1

      I'm guessing this is one of the reasons that Sage is giving DOC better power to control whitebaiting on the conservation estate. Once those rivers are protected it will be easier to see what to do about the deforested ones.

      • Stuart Munro. 10.1.1

        It's partly a political perception issue, which of course is also what drives the Gnat critique. If the only recovery strategy is curtailing what may in many cases be quite a modest take, the public with some justice feel that they are carrying all the burden. But if there is an active fishery rebuild, supporting that by temporarily suspending one's own fishing seems less onerous.

  11. roy cartland 11

    I remember being aghast when I went to Hong Kong once and people talked about eating snake:

    "You're considered lucky to have eaten snake, as there are hardly any left," someone told me. This had led to a rush in people scoffing as much as they could before they disappeared completely.

    Here we see look of smug defiance on those who relish their whitebait fritters, knowing that they're devouring an endangered species, but "they're so delicious".

    I wonder how many harvests would be left if there were more unpolluted habitats for them?

    • weka 11.1

      In the 1800s, when the European settlers here realised that species were going extinct, they hunted them for stuffing because they wanted specimens before they were all gone.

      I don't think most baiters are like that, I think many are just in denial, and National egging them on doubles down on that.

      • Robert Guyton 11.1.1

        There'll hardly be anyone catching whitebait and stuffing them for posterity, weka; come on!

        • greywarshark 11.1.1.1

          Lol you couldn't resist that one Robert.

        • weka 11.1.1.2

          I think there are too many people stuffing whitebait already 😛

          Probably not going to get the image of wall mounted whitebait out of my head now.

          • Robert Guyton 11.1.1.2.1

            Trophy fish.

            The story of the huia and the fashion frenzy that hastened it's extinction is really interesting and chilling, in that it shows there are many drivers, some unseen and difficult to foretell, that contribute to the extinguishing of other organisms, some of whom we admire, others of whom we don't. I don't know that we can guard well enough against those influences, quite frankly. So far, we've done a poor job.

      • Matiri 11.1.2

        National egging them on ha ha!!

        Doing our bit for the fishery as we don't eat them, can't see what all the fuss and $$ is all about. Plus we could see that harvesting bulging netfuls of juveniles was going to cause this very problem.

    • greywarshark 11.2

      Delicious, and 'I'm entitled.  Done this all my life, and father and grandfather before.  (Quoting authority.)  I shouldn't have to change.   (Deflection – It's all those townies and incomers who travel around in caravans and come stealing our fish.)

      • Robert Guyton 11.2.1

        But there is an issue…

        …with traditional harvesting (think, muttonbirds…)

        • greywarshark 11.2.1.1

          Mmmm Depends how far back the traditional harvesting has been … before 1840, then in 20 year increments?    And Maori did actually feed early settlers in their time of need.    Shouldn’t the offspring of settlers now concede the rights of traditional harvesting back to their kaitiaki use, in a return of generosity and respect for rights?

    • Robert Guyton 11.3

      I fore-swore eating them, at the point where I'd just won a kilo in a raffle; handed it back, shouldered the responsibility and wore the ribbing…30 years ago…

  12. WeTheBleeple 12

    I can set up breeding grounds if you have a stream connected to the ocean (and historic whitebait presence). Through restorative efforts we could raise the populations much faster.

    They come in on a king tide/storm system to breed and lay eggs in the roots of sedges and other plants at high water. This is higher water than normal (king tide) but the eggs stay damp via capillary action of the streams water. So the eggs are damp but also have air. On the next king tide they hatch and float out to sea where they spend several months fattening up to whitebait size. They return to where they were hatched, or very close to it. Some think they follow the smell of mum (pheremones), others think they detect if fish are present (livable). 

    Edge is where it's at – a planted edge. To greatly increase breeding potential greatly increase the edge. A fishbone pattern would be very effective. 

    Storm systems churn the water up a bit making it safer for fish to move about and lay eggs in the shallows. If going for artificial hatching low barometic pressure, plants roots and some rock dust to cloud the water can work. I'm the only person to do this without chemicals but it's quite easy once you understand the storms/water levels trigger egg laying. In a tank system you want an ebb and flow set up.

    • Rosemary McDonald 12.1

      "I can set up breeding grounds if you have a stream connected to the ocean (and historic whitebait presence). Through restorative efforts we could raise the populations much faster. "

      You will have heard of the work of this gentleman…

      https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/75922680/

      Charles Mitchell was the kind of environmentalist who loved progress, hated red tape and shared his knowledge with anyone who'd listen.

      The sustainable whitebait pioneer has been described by his children as a "mad scientist of the best degree".

      "He was a true polymath," his daughter Megan Mitchell said, "an artist, a musician, a sailor, a builder, a scientist, a historian and a father.  He was generous with his time and knowledge, inspirational in his innovation, and above all, kind."

      Charles died in September next to his fish ponds near Raglan, where he'd spent decades restoring whitebait habitat.

      • WeTheBleeple 12.1.1

        Yeah we hung out. I miss Charles he was a radical and a bit of a genius.

        • Robert Guyton 12.1.1.1

          How many "whitebaiters" are involved with improving the fishery; physically involved, that is. I've often wondered this.

          • peterh 12.1.1.1.1

            there is more than catching that is stuffing up whitebait. what about the stuffing up of breeding grounds. I have been whitebaiting for 65 years. and thats the main problem. plenty of whitebait get up the river out of season. and at night but when they get there nowhere to bred. also last year was one of the best for several years  I agree some of the problem is the catching but there are more problems than that when there were large catches there were not many  whitebaiters some days now   on some small rivers in the Nth Island there are more whitebaiter then fish

            • Robert Guyton 12.1.1.1.1.1

              Agreed; habit and management is all-important. If "people" applied themselves, galaxy numbers could balloon. I'm wondering how many "takers" actively work towards building fish numbers and habitat. Or is it just "environmental" types that do the mahi there? If so, are the salt-of-the-earth baiters biting the hand that feeds them by criticising DoC etc?

              • WeTheBleeple

                Charles was working with a Southland power Company restoring habitat/s down there but didn't get any more detail than that. You'd think they'd use the project for PR maybe he passed before it was finished.

    • Robert Guyton 12.2

      WeTheBleeple: Do you have problems with mice feeding on the eggs?
      And/or eels, feeding? Herons?
      Not looking for problems, just wonderin’

      • Psycho Milt 12.2.1

        I expect he/she's very much against it!

        Sorry. I'll fetch me coat…

        • Robert Guyton 12.2.1.1

          I surely poorly-constructerized that sentence!

          I'll fetch mine too.

          • WeTheBleeple 12.2.1.1.1

            HA! Off with you and your coat! Take a look at sedges (with cutty grass type edges) and their root systems. The eggs are very hard to detect/get at – though kokopu/inanga grew up without mammals and it's anyone's guess what the mice are doing to them. I imagine natural attrition has always taken some out via other critters grazing. 

            That's a He, PM, except on Fridays… Fruity Friday we call it in making-stuff-up land. 

            Are mice hydrophobic? Rats aren’t…

            Toi toi and manuka were featured on Charles fish pond’s banks but also the sedges featuring prominently.

            Just wondering if there’s special wet/dry states to sedge root mass. What if it opens up/softens then closes/hardens. seen much stranger phenomenon.

            • Robert Guyton 12.2.1.1.1.1

              Interesting… in Southland, grasses, usually rank pasture grasses are said to be the primary egg-laying medium. Pity about the "natural" waterside sedges etc. browsed off by livestock or sprayed into non-existence. So mice can easily predators galaxid eggs down here. Our purpose-built waterway system in the wetland reserve on the edge of town has harakeke and mingimingi beside the water, but mostly still, cocksfoot, but “cutty grass” is making a strong come-back.

            • Graeme 12.2.1.1.1.2

              If there's trout or eels around the mouse won't be swimming for long, life expectancy measured in seconds rather than minutes once in the stream.  Then happy fat trout / eel.

              • greywarshark

                Could there be a close, happy whitebait catchers group be developed? People who are part of the in-crowd, and turn up before the run and put in more plantings in a special screened off area each year.   They would form a special interest group involved in a kaitiaki group taking part in the whole fishery thing, not just taking out of the fishery to suit themselves.   Could turn up early for the plantings and for a celebration day and evening with guitars etc, a bit of simple community cheer.

              • Robert Guyton

                True, but…the mice feed from the land; the eggs are high and dry/moist when the tides are not king. Any fool mouse that slipped and fell, however, is toast.

                No worse than venturing into a hen-run though; the life of a mouse is terribly hard!

              • WeTheBleeple

                Good point Graeme, eels are always present in whitebait habitat.

                Eels will take prey off the bank Robert – mice? Don’t know…

                • Robert Guyton

                  They'd have to be quick!

                  With eel numbers fallen, I wonder what effect that's having on the galaxid populations? In any case, let's make more habitat for both and let them get on with their lives. A Giant Kokopu would eat an elver, I reckon, but probably the two don't often occupy the same space. I know they love small chunks of blue codsmiley

                  • WeTheBleeple

                    There's a sizable population of sizable giants here In AK but I won't tell anyone where they are… Predator prey cycles denote a lack of eels will boost whitebait numbers which in turn will help the ailing eels. The idea of habitat plus fisheries restoration is sound. One or the other is like fixing a bone with a cast but not setting it first.

  13. Monkra 13

    I live in Westland and work as a chef. I would love to know the size of the black market in cash sales of whitebait.

    I have never heard of any local restaurant being audited by officials concerning their whitebait stock. All the owner has to do is say they caught the bait themselves.

    As soon as the season starts i have fishermen offering me whitebait for sale, cash only, price determined by bush telegraph, $50 a kilo or more depending on catches made. 

    I personally know people who make $80,000 a season, cash, no tax. One fella got a ton of bait in two days near the Hokitika bridge. Another friend took $30,000 to South Westland to buy bait for cash, spent the lot, shipped it to Auckland netting $90,000 in 24 hours.

    Recreational pastime my ass.

  14. Cinny 14

    Well said Monkra.

    There's a sense of generational entitlement when it comes to whitebait.  There in lays the biggest problem.  Free money is the biggest driver, when the fish are running. 

    Have often heard of people earning six figures catching whitebait.  And yes they just take it to the city to sell, often via the kitchens back door.  Laughing all the way to the bank.

    Also have heard of large volumes just being dumped due to things like not enough room in the freezer etc.  That's not at all uncommon.

    What I haven't heard of is any whitebaiters having an interaction with any fisheries officers. 

    maureen pugh is just trying to stir up shite with propaganda on an extremely emotive subject especially for West Coasters.  People don't like it when you mess with their tax free incomes, cause in the end, for those upset, it often comes down to money.

    But there is hope, round the Tasman district the kids are being educated via Whitebait Connection.  And it's working.  A 11yr old from a whitebaiting family was explaining to me the other day about the dire situation and how we need to protect the species.  I was like dang, the kids are getting it, what's up with some of the grownup's…  greed or ignorance?
    https://www.whitebaitconnection.co.nz/

    Shout out to Stew who is doing incredible work too…
    http://tasmanbayguardians.org.nz/whitebait-connection

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/114696170/protecting-the-tasman-bay-is-crucial-for-ocean-health-says-the-man-taking-on-a-kaitiaki-role

    • greywarshark 14.1

      That's great to hear Cinny.   Mokra it sounds as if that is partly true and partly stretched fishy story.   Just another thing that government has been lacking on.   This is the sort of thing that central government should be concerned about as local government often gets bogged down in local habits.   Someone put a fishhook in their nether regions eh!

  15. Nigel Jones 15

    Most of you have hit the nail on the head. Don't always blame the farmers for whitebait stocks decline

     Blame those on the river who are selling their catch. For many it's ONLY ABOUT THE MIGHTY DOLLAR.

    To those who say that whitebait patties for sale at gala days and community fundraisers have always been the norm– find something else to sell. Do we ever see Trout sandwiches or snapper burgers at fundraisers? No never. Our thinking has got to change.

    STOP ALL WHITEBAIT SALES

  16. We could use the Maori word Inanga however that is probably being deemed as rascist ?

  17. The main problem is the destruction of the Inanga's habitat, and the poor water quality due to aggressive farming practices.

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