White gold fever will cause hundreds of New Zealanders to perch beside a river tomorrow morning in hope of landing some of our most sought after delicacy.

While the whitebait season, which opens at 5am, is forcast to be just average, it won't stop the enthusiasts heading out with their nets en mass.

And wildlife rangers have warned that strict catch rules must be adhered to.

Those who fall foul of the laws face hefty $5000 fines.


Department of Conservation (DOC) senior ranger for coastal Otago, Pete Ravenscroft, said sports shops have reported an increase in sales of whitebait nets on last season.

The expected increased pressure on the whitebait fishery means more DOC rangers will be out on patrols -- especially outside the permitted hours of 5am-8pm and 6am-9pm after daylight saving.

"When we hear about people flouting the rules, such as fishing at night, using oversized and unmanned nets and using more than one net, this is stealing the whitebait fishery from future generations," Mr Ravenscroft said.

The season runs from 5am tomorrow to November 30 in all areas of New Zealand -- except the famous white gold region of the West Coast of the South Island which doesn't start until September 1.

Mr Ravenscroft said every third season seemed to be a good one and this season was likely to be average.

A spokeswoman for West Coast-based Cascade Whitebait wholesalers said they won't know how the season will play out until fisherman get to their remote spots.

And that will likely determine the costs.

Last year prices in the shops started at about $100 per kilo.


Whitebaiters are being urged by DOC to keep a diary of their catches and time spent on the river to determine whether its habitat enhancement work in various areas is increasing whitebait numbers.