Opinion: Chris Turver, a support adviser for the Waikanae Estuary Whitebaiters Network, looks ahead to the whitebaiting season.
The whitebait season opens on Friday, August 15 with continuing uncertainty over beach vehicle access for the middle-aged and elderly who cannot physically lug whitebaiting gear weighing between 10-15kg across soft sand.
The Waikanae Estuary Whitebaiters Network has shown that many of its 130 members are aged between 60-80, have serious or debilitating medical conditions, and rely on whitebaiting as a therapeutic recreational activity.
It is waiting for mediation through the Human Rights Commission to determine whether Kāpiti Coast District Council is breaching the Human Rights Act by banning beach vehicle access for people with infirmities or disabilities.
For 100 years, whitebaiters have driven for their own safety on the firm sand between the high and low tide marks (inter-tidal zone) and from 1993 when the bylaws were introduced whitebaiters were given dispensation to drive to reach the river mouth.
In 2018 the KCDC decided, with no consultation with whitebaiters, to enforce a bylaw which had never been used to ban vehicles.
Whitebaiting is a legal recreational activity and an unintended consequence of the KCDC's approach is that whitebaiters unable to walk too far are forced to leave their vehicles in carparks or on road sides close to river access.
One solution is to renew a permit system, started by the KCDC two years ago and scrapped last year with no consultation.
Whitebaiters' vehicles have been using the Paraparaumu and Waikanae beaches since the Model A Fords of the 1920s with no reported accidents and no harm to the few intrepid nesting birds.
Because of their age and enjoyment of the marine environment, whitebaiters value the river and play a part in protecting it.
What they have no control over are the hoons who thoughtlessly rip up the beaches with cars and motorbikes, with no enforcement officers in sight.
Two years ago the network proposed after encouraging talks with Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan that a code of conduct be established by the network to ensure whitebaiter vehicles are used responsibly and to develop an education programme.
A written submission firming up the proposal was ignored by the KCDC and an opportunity to work together was lost.
Meanwhile¸the KCDC's Beach Bylaw Review which was to have been completed in 2019, and then pushed back to this year because of Covid-19 and other delays, will not now be completed until after the whitebaiting season ends in November.
A DoC nationwide review of the whitebait regulations, which began in 2018 and was to have been completed this year, was pushed out until after the general election with no change this year to existing regulations.
Plans announced by the Conservation Minister in March 2018 to restore the health of the Waikanae River under a Mountains to the Sea project have made no obvious public progress, with very little disclosure about what is going on.
DoC continues after 13 years to refuse Greater Wellington Regional Council consent to remove massive shingle build-ups in the lower reaches of the river which threaten public safety or to deal with increasing siltation in the estuary which DoC now warns "can cause quicksand conditions".
The consequence of continuing neglect has been that DoC's environmental ranking for its scientific reserve, which covers the entire lower river and estuary, is listed at a low 359 compared to the genuine environmental icon of neighbouring Kāpiti Island on 22.
In terms of the marine environment, the justification for a scientific reserve has been squandered and it should be de-listed so that work can start on cleaning it up as a first step to restoring the river's health.
About Chris Turver: Turver was a government-appointed member for 13 years of the committee set up to establish Kapiti Marine Reserve, chairman of GWRC's environment committee for three years, foundation member of the Friends of the Waikanae River, and support adviser for the Waikanae Estuary Whitebaiters Network.