As another whitebait season ends, scientists say we can’t tell whether the fishery is sustainable because there are no measurements of the population.
Massey University freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy told Newshub that failing to look after the freshwater environment was “coming home to roost for us now we’re seeing freshwater fish disappear”.
He said limits on net sizes and fishing season should be extended to limit the fishery to recreational fishers only. “Give our whitebait, our native fish, the same protections that we give to introduced trout and salmon.”
“If we have the same law that says you cannot sell them, a huge amount of pressure that’s on the fish at the moment would disappear, because all the people that do it for money wouldn’t do it anymore.”
University of Canterbury research associate Dr Mike Hickford said comprehensive catch information was needed to give an idea of longer-term trends. “We have no idea if fluctuations in the whitebait catch are even related to fish stocks, let alone whether the whitebait catch is in decline.”
Unitec senior lecturer Dr Stéphane Boyer said one of the big issues was that we don’t know which species are being caught, as the five species of galaxiid look very similar as juvenile fry.
“What the industry lacks is a dedicated stock monitoring tool for whitebait,” Boyer said. “But what is certain is that we are not getting any less effective at catching whitebait.”
Dr Boyer is leading a research project that aims to identify whitebait species by DNA, which could lend itself to differentiating the endangered species at the juvenile stage.
Read the full expert reaction.
The state of the whitebait fishery was covered by several local media:
Radio NZ: Is New Zealand’s whitebait population fried?
Newshub: Ban the selling of whitebait – scientist
SunLive: The plight of the whitebait
The Greymouth Star: Researcher calls for whitebait licence
Radio NZ: Whitebait debate: Mike Joy
The Westport News: Experts warn whitebait fishery threatened
Stuff.co.nz: Distilled Science: Four of five species’ numbers are declining
The Press: Is it time to ban commercial whitebaiting?