With the whitebait season kicking off yesterday morning, Department of Conservation (DOC) was reminding Horowhenua whitebaiters to follow the rules to protect the fishery.

In the North Island, the whitebaiting season runs from August 15 until November 30. While there are no changes to the regulations for the 2019 season, DoC would be patrolling whitebaiting sites and talking to whitebaiters to ensure people were complying with the regulations.

Whitebaiting is permitted between 5am and 8pm or between 6am and 9pm when daylight saving starts. Illegal whitebaiting carried a maximum fine of $5000 and whitebaiting equipment could be seized.

DoC administers whitebaiting regulations that covered methods of fishing, location of whitebaiting sites, legal fishing times and net size.

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Later this year, DoC will consult with the public on improving whitebait management including reviewing the whitebait fishing regulations.

This follows public engagement in 2018 and early 2019 on improving the whitebait management to restore populations and provide for a sustainable whitebait fishery.

The engagement included a DoC survey, where 90 per cent of respondents said changes were needed to make New Zealand's whitebait fishery sustainable.

DoC freshwater scientist Jane Goodman said whitebait were iconic in New Zealand.

"Unfortunately, four of the six whitebait species are categorised as either threatened or at risk of extinction. We need to ensure we protect their habitat, especially spawning areas," she said.

"It's good to see work being done to protect and restore whitebait habitat, such as planting and fencing off spawning grounds from stock and the restoration of adult habitat."

Whitebait need to be able to move between freshwater and marine habitats to complete their lifecycle. People should contact their local DoC or Regional Council office if they see overhanging culverts or other barriers that stop whitebait migrating.

"People can also help by fishing for whitebait responsibly and sustainably," Jane Goodman says.

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Whitebait are juveniles of six species of native fish: giant kokopu, banded kokopu, shortjaw kokopu, inanga, koaro and common smelt. Those that escape the whitebait net grow into adults ranging from 10 to 60 centimetres long.

Everyone will get the opportunity to have their say during the public consultation. Information on this can be found on DoC's website.