Source: Department of Conservation
Date: 22 November 2021
What they learn will be used to continue improving whitebait management over the long term.
Whitebait are a valuable part of the indigenous biodiversity of Aotearoa, and are taonga and mahinga kai for Māori. However four of the six whitebait species are threatened or at risk of extinction.
Local knowledge is being sought to add to the kete of tools which DOC can use to support the health of the local fishery.
Whakatāne DOC rangers have been out whitebaiting on local rivers this season learning what it takes to ‘catch enough for a kai’.
New whitebait regulations came into effect this season which are an important step towards a sustainable whitebait fishery, but they’re only part of the process to help whitebait thrive.
Earlier in the season, DOC ran community hui in Matatā, Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki.
At the community gatherings many questions were asked of DOC including ‘what are you guys doing to help the fishery?’
Local rangers were keen to start investigating the way people whitebait in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, and what exactly is in their buckets.
DOC Aquatic Director Elizabeth Heeg says the department is gathering more evidence about the state of the whitebait fishery.
“Better information is essential to ensure the whitebait management programme is effective and any need for further changes to the programme or regulations is identified.”
The Whakatāne DOC office seized the opportunity to be involved in a local research project about whitebait, with support from DOC’s national whitebait team.
The rangers talked to Canterbury University and came up with a research aim: To identify and describe ‘whitebait’ species composition collected in accordance with the maramataka, on selected rivers in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
As part of this rangahau (research) initiative, Waioeka, Whakatāne and Tarawera Rivers are being sampled by local DOC rangers, to get a picture of what species are running up each river, and when.
The maramataka is helping to guide their sampling days and a key local whitebaiter/kaitiaki on each river has been working alongside rangers.
This research may help whitebaiters to be selective in what they take home and when they might choose to fish, in order to avoid catching the more endangered species of whitebait.
DOC is hoping that the community will want to have input into future research projects on whitebait and also be involved in some deeper conversations about different ways in which this treasured fishery can be managed.
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