While some measure their whitebait catch by the pound, others think of how many eggs they will need to turn it into an omelette.

Rotorua's Christian Jensen was one of dozens of fishermen lining the Bay of Plenty's Kaituna River yesterday for the start of the whitebaiting season, eagerly anticipating their first taste of the delicacy.

"You can't believe how tasty they are. Hopefully, I will get about three eggs' worth by the end of the day but I've only got enough to need a sparrow's egg at the moment," he said.


Mr Jensen, who took the day off work yesterday to sit beside the river and keep a watchful eye out for the whitebait, said he had been coming to Kaituna for the opening of the season for the past 10 years.

"It's great to get out on the first day.

"It's very relaxing. You see the same crew here every year and everyone has a good old natter and tells each other lies about how much they've caught," Mr Jensen said.

Some fishermen had arrived at the river an hour before the season's official 5 am start to grab the prime spots, but by mid-afternoon, many were still waiting for a decent run of whitebait.

"The tide is not right at the moment, but when the whitebait run you've just got to be here, because they might only run for half an hour or so," Mr Jensen said.

"During that half hour you're full-on scooping."

While more then 10,000 fishermen were expected to invade rivers and coastlines over the three-month season, the Department of Conservation will be out checking that everyone is complying with the rules.

DoC freshwater ecologist Kim Young said whitebait fishing regulations, such as fishing between 5 am and 8 pm, would be enforced regularly throughout the season.

"We accept that whitebait is a much sought-after delicacy and part of our tradition for many New Zealanders, but the department also has a responsibility to protect the fishery long term and will be monitoring several key sites."