Whitebaiting enthusiast David King describes himself as a conservationist.

On opening day of the whitebait season last week, the Invercargill man was on the Mataura River stand that he co-owns with his mate Graham Hicks.

The pair were annoyed at suggestions that whitebait stocks were decreasing. They had kept their own records of their catches since 2009, and that was not the case, they said.

''I'm a conservationist. I don't want to see stocks depleted . . . . we haven't seen a decline,'' King said.

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What Hicks believed was wrong with the industry - whether it was crayfish, paua or whitebait - was what he described as ''outright greed''.

For the two mates, it was a hobby. They were ''not in the game of making money out of it'', and the majority of people were like that, they said.

''I'll give people a feed but I'd never sell it,'' Hicks said.

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While the potbelly stove was keeping their little hut cosy as the weather conditions were cold and windy outside, it was very relaxing on a nice day to take a chair outside. There was always someone wandering up and down the river to talk to, he said.

At nearby Fortrose, on the Southland coast, John Crossan (73) and wife Patti were heading for a coffee and the comfort of their motor home after several hours at the river mouth.

''There's not a lot, is there?'' Mr Crossan rued, as he inspected his meagre whitebait haul.

Crossan, a retired farmer now living in Geraldine, had been whitebaiting for 55 years.

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John Crossan admires his catch on the opening day of the whitebait season in Southland. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery
John Crossan admires his catch on the opening day of the whitebait season in Southland. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery

Opening day's wild weather was not conducive to much success but he acknowledged some ''really good hauls'' over the years.

The thrill of the catch brought him back every season, whether it was the Kakanui, Waitaki or the rivers of the West Coast.

He never sold any whitebait, preferring instead to ''get enough to have a feed''.

Crossan had heart issues, but that did not deter him.

''You just go slow. We've got to keep moving, I don't give up. If the weather picks up, I'll get some,'' he said.'