Hawke's Bay waterways are set for an uplift in visitor numbers after the official whitebait fishing season has opened for the year.

Running between August 15 and November 30 inclusively, the season allows people to fish for whitebait when at all other times of the year it is prohibited.

Hunting and Fishing Guns and Tackle salesman Tony Hildesheim said fishermen were already reporting good hauls in line with the success whitebaiters had last year.

"Last season was very good. The fish don't come up every day and all day; they come in runs with the current and the tide. Last year we had some phenomenal catches at a couple of the rivers."

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The Hawke's Bay Regional Council reported 206 whitebait stands had been registered for the season on the Ngaruroro, Tutaekuri, Clive and Tukituki rivers.

Provided the fee is paid annually, the consent provides security over a registered fishing location. Some had been handed down over generations and stayed within families throughout decades, a council spokesman said.

Part of a fish group called galaxiids, whitebait are the juveniles of five species of fish: giant kokopu, banded kokopu, short jaw kokopu, inanga, and koaro.

The Department of Conservation manage the whitebait fisheries and enforce regulations on both fishing hours and net sizes.

However, Forest and Bird freshwater advocate Annabeth Cohen said these regulations weren't good enough and didn't reflect the state of the species, citing four out of five whitebait species were "on their way to extinction". "We've got to turn that around."

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries whitebait is the only recreationally caught fish that can be legally sold in New Zealand.

Commercial fishing, accompanied by water quality and habitat destruction, was a key factor in the decline of whitebait that needed to be addressed, Ms Cohen said.

The Department of Conservation currently deems all but one of the whitebait species as either declining or threatened due to unhealthy rivers and introduced fish and plants.

Keeping a whitebait catch small and only taking what you need was one of the suggested ways fishermen could help with this decline, however Mr Hildesheim didn't think conservation was an issue whitebaiters were concerned about.

"There's probably not a lot of talk about that. It's get what you can, people give it away or they sell it. I don't think too many people are greedy, once they get a feed they're happy."

Those seeking further information about whitebait regulations can visit www.doc.govt.nz.