Gearing up for whitebait season

By Laura Mills of the Greymouth Star

A whitebaiter checks his net to see if he has caught enough of the elusive delicacy for that night's dinner. Photo / Alan Gibson
A whitebaiter checks his net to see if he has caught enough of the elusive delicacy for that night's dinner. Photo / Alan Gibson

Greymouth could be the place to be when the West Coast whitebait season opens tomorrow - though temptation has already proved too much for a few people.

Pre-season sightings of whitebait are few and far between, despite the number of fishermen starting to amass on the riverbanks, but Greymouth is a different story.

"The rivers are very, very low," Department of Conservation Greymouth ranger Brad Edwards said.

"About three weeks ago, there was quite a lot of bait around."

However, since the fresh last week there had been no reported sightings.

He said a "couple" of early starters had been caught on the Grey River. He did not reveal where exactly they were found, but said they were "trying to keep to themselves".

In Hokitika, DOC ranger Ted Brennan said a lot of people were on the riverbanks, and a little whitebait seen heading upstream.

"There's been bits and pieces about, the odd shoal."

After reports of blocked creeks, the fresh seemed to have opened up many of them.

No one had been caught out fishing early in the Hokitika area. "They are either keeping well out of sight, or behaving themselves."

Things are also quiet in South Westland - perhaps a little too quiet.

DOC community relations manager Cornelia Vervoorn, of Fox Glacier, said very little bait seemed to be about.

"There have been a couple of smaller shoals in the Haast area, but nothing up here, which is quite unusual."

Again, pre-season compliance was good.

Haast whitebait buyer Moana Kerr from the Curly Tree Whitebait Company said they had yet to see any whitebait in their river, the Waita.

For the start of season, they will be paying $50 a kilogram, although once the supply ramps up the price will drop.

In Westport, no pre-season fishing activity was observed, or even reported from the public, which was "most unusual," DOC ranger Martin Abel said.

During the past week, staff had noticed several illegal stands built on the Buller River. The whitebait fishing regulations did not stop people building a structure, but made it illegal to fish from one.

"If DOC rangers come across someone fishing from an illegal stand they will ask them to stop fishing and take their details. Non-compliance or repeat offending may result in gear being seized and prosecution."

Whitebaiters had become quite slack in leaving their gear in the water after they had finished fishing.

He also asked people to help protect penguins and weka by either leaving their dogs at home or having them tied up on the riverbank.

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