Whitebaiters up at the crack of dawn as the season kicks off


Josh Mills, of Hunting and Fishing New Plymouth, shows off one of the whitebait nets on sale. Early season is not the busiest time for the sales though.

SIMON O’CONNOR/Stuff

Josh Mills, of Hunting and Fishing New Plymouth, shows off one of the whitebait nets on sale. Early season is not the busiest time for the sales though.

Tracy Skelton and his dog Darcy were among the first, and the last, to be whitebaiting at the Waiwakaiho River mouth on Monday morning.

Skelton was down at the river at the crack of dawn on the third day of the whitebait season to try and catch some of the tiny, much-sought-after fish.

But he didn’t manage a bumper haul.

“It’s pretty average,” he said of his morning catch.

The season, which began on Saturday, runs until November 30.

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Whitebaiting is still allowed under coronaviruis alert level 2, as long as participants keep a two-metre distance from each other.

But that wasn’t an issue for Skelton, with only eight others whitebaiting at 6am, and only one left at the opposite side of the river by 8.30am.

Tracy Skelton was trying his luck whitebaiting at the Waiwakaiho River on Monday morning.

SIMON O’CONNOR/Stuff

Tracy Skelton was trying his luck whitebaiting at the Waiwakaiho River on Monday morning.

The sun was beaming down on Skelton’s quiet spot, tucked away near some bush, which is why he keeps doing it.

“It’s time out,” he said.

Skelton has been whitebaiting for more than 10 years and also popped down to the river with the good weather at the weekend to see if he could catch something.

“It was all right. It’s just the start of the season,” he said.

New Plymouth Hunting and Fishing manager Shay Fairhurst said there had been some “nervousness” among the whitebaiting community as Covid-19 almost put a stop to the season, but it didn’t last long.

“We’ve heard there have been some good catches over the weekend.”

Sales of fishing equipment were about the same as last year, but not many people rushed out to buy whitebaiting gear at the start of the season anyway, he said.

Leading up to the season, the Department of Conservation was reminding people of the whitebaiting regulations.

These include legal fishing times, standing out of the water to fish and only one net per person.

DOC freshwater manager Elizabeth Heeg said four of the six whitebait species are classified as either threatened or at risk of extinction.

“DOC has worked together with New Zealanders since 2018 on ways to restore whitebait where they have declined, and what’s needed for a sustainable whitebait fishery.”

DOC will be patrolling whitebaiting hot spots to make sure people are compliant and illegal whitebaiting carries a maximum fine of $5000 and equipment can be seized.

Red signs warning against swimming and food gathering at Waiwakaiho River during maintenance at the New Plymouth Wastewater Treatment Plant were taken down on Monday after the work was completed.

The normal orange signs, advising against shellfish gathering, are back up, but all other activities are good to go, a New Plymouth District Council spokesman said.