Third generation whitebaiters

By Doug Laing

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L-R Lukas Wulf-Ryan 6, Isaac Wulf-Ryan 8 (correct) all Napier looking at freshly caught whitebait, Awatoto Rivermouth. Hawke's Bay Today photograph by Warren Buckland
L-R Lukas Wulf-Ryan 6, Isaac Wulf-Ryan 8 (correct) all Napier looking at freshly caught whitebait, Awatoto Rivermouth. Hawke's Bay Today photograph by Warren Buckland

Like any whitebaiter, Matt Fuller doesn't let out too many secrets, other than it's in his blood and his kids' blood as well.

Yesterday, he was at the Ngaruroro River mouth at Awatoto, along with eight-year-old Isaac and Lukas, 6, the next generation, with dad a seasoned whitebaiter who's been at it least 15 years, after being introduced by his own father.

Despite Department of Conservation concerns for a depleting stock, he says last year was his best, but his lips are sealed on how much, and from where.

A scaffolder by trade, he's seen a gap in the market and makes "Pops" nets and screens - the name recognising the vintage of many of the users.

The whitebait season began last Monday, and DoC and police say monitoring and surveillance is being stepped up to make sure there is no repeat of the widespread offending uncovered during the whitebaiting season last year, when 48 nets were seized in the east coast region.

Mr Fuller, 26, plans taking every opportunity he can during the season, up to five hours a day. It ends on November 30, with whitebaiting permitted 5am-8pm (6am and 9pm after daylight saving starts on September 28).

Whitebaiters are limited to one net each, and must remain with the net, and offences can attract fines of up to $5000 and forfeiture of equipment.

DoC biodiversity ranger Dan Winchester says the future of whitebaiting is in the hands of those fishing the tiny wrigglers.

"When people don't follow those regulations, it harms whitebait populations to a point where they may not recover," he says.

The river mouth at Awatoto is already a popular haunt of the seasonal fishers, despite insignificant catches to date.

Fishers also chanced their luck in the Esk River during the weekend with apparently limited success, while further north, Mohaka River users expect to be waiting another fortnight. Small amounts had been reported at Porangahau.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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