Protecting the whitebait fishery in New Zealand


Whitebait are a New Zealand delicacy. Every year hundreds of people try their hand at catching the tasty translucent morsels that enter our coastal waterways. On the market, a kilogram of whitebait may fetch N.Z.$90.

Whitebait patties are how most whitebait that are caught end up. Their popularity is enduring by virtue of the relative ease and speed of making them. They were the entree at the A.P.E.C. 1999 State Banquet held for the then United States President Bill Clinton and the Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

But whitebait are in danger of extinction. Their immense popularity, damage to their habitat and (this is debatable)over fishing of the delicacy, which have five subspecies in New Zealand – climbing galaxias, common galaxias, banded kokopu, shortjaw kokopu and giant kokopu┬áhave brought about severe challenges for a popular recreational past time. This has brought with it, talk of possibly closing the fishery for a period of one or two years during which there is a complete ban on whitebaiting, with the idea being that whitebait would be able to regain some of their population.

Whitebait habitat damage, and in particular their spawning grounds is the most serious threat they face. A spawning ground might be only a couple standard glass houses in area, but in that area tens of thousands of whitebait will be depositing their eggs, and the destruction of that one spawning ground might be the difference between whether or not that particular river/stream/creek/estuary/lagoon has a meaningful whitebait population the following year.

I and my father whitebait each year. We have no problems with compliance and follow local regulations specific to the Canterbury area and fisheries. We do it because we enjoy eating whitebait and are not there to make a profit from doing so, which some are – our purpose has always been to put food on the table, which is what I believe all hunting and fishing should be about. We do not leave any litter or other debris behind that might enter their habitat and cause adverse effects.

Pollutants entering the habitat – cigarette butts, plastics, and so forth – are another threat that needs to be considered. This is a general common pollution issue that should be dealt with separately by way of enforcement action by local council rangers. Fines and – most appropriately – making the offender participate in a rubbish clean up would be a good way of getting the message across.

No quotas exist for whitebaiters. It is debatable whether there needs to be quotas. One will immediately ask, if quotas exist, how are they going to be enforced and the only answer from hard experience is by ground enforcement on the spot. There would need to be many rangers enforcing the quotas and there is a possibility that they would – like anyone involved in law enforcement – possibly have to deal with hostile people. The quota size itself would also be up for debate. Sometimes several kilogrammes of whitebait might be caught each day, and then there might be none or little for several days or even weeks – nearly all we caught this year was taken in the final week of the season.

Whitebaiters are permitted to whitebait from dawn to dusk. They are allowed nets and gobi’s (nylon fencing on poles)that extend from the net to the shore. The combined net/gobi arrangement cannot take up more than 1/3 of a channel width and must be manned at all times. A whitebait net cannot be less than 20 metres from another whitebait net.┬áThe season start time varies from one region to the next – the Canterbury one started in mid-August and ended at sunset 30 November.

I don’t want any children I might eventually have or anyone else who has children to be denied the opportunity to show them an easy and fun – albeit sometimes patience testing – mode of fishing. So, let us enjoy our whitebait, but apply a bit of common sense and protect the habitats, don’t take more than you want to use and respect the other whitebaiters who have come to try their luck.

Common sense really.

Time to address concussion in sport


The deaths of two young rugby players just a few days apart will bring into crystal clear focus the very high risk in certain types of sport of concussion. For the first time players and media commentators seem to be starting to accept that it is time to stop beating about the bush, and accept that the cons of a head knock during a match far out weigh the pros. But even as the evidence and concern has continued to to grow that there is a crisis, in that the sporting bodies, the administrators are trying to depict more immediate problems in the form of meeting corporate priorities, least that they suddenly find themselves suffering a knock of another sort.

Rugby and rugby league have always been high risk collision sports where physical human contact is integral to the game. Both have rules about how to deal with high and poorly executed tackles where the head part of the spinal system may suffer concussive type knocks.

Contrast with the National Football League in the United States where dollars seem to be more important than the well being of players in the long term. The pressure to get players that can change a match to go back on the field when they are still suffering symptoms has been the subject of numerous documentaries and a movie. Coaching a football team of young men who have a macho attitude is considered to be a major honour without really thinking about how these people will fair when they retire continues to challenge American sporting authorities. It also challenges the medical practitioners, the families who have to watch their loved ones deal with the effects of brain damage or damage to the spinal cord caused by a heavy knock or knocks. It affects their potential job prospects because the damage might mean that the brain tires more quickly or is not able to deal with complex matters as easily as a healthy brain not subject to such issues might.

But whilst New Zealand might seem to be making progress when rugby and league are compared to the N.F.L. competition there is no doubt that we have some way to go in addressing the issues they present.

In fact it is long since time to take this to the next level and institute a concussion programme for anyone playing sport where there is the potential for concussion. Netball, rugby, cricket – all need to come on board. Who can forget the Australian batsman who fell down dead after being struck by a bouncer a couple of years ago? Horrific, totally unintentional yet, thanks to the design of the helmet an act that would have been lethal quite quickly Phil Hughes suffered what would have become very severe bleeding of one of the most important arteries in his body, which would have put quick and massive pressure on his brain.

What about net ballers misjudging a high intercept and occasionally colliding mid air? It has probably happened. I cannot recall any major incidents where anyone went off with concussion, but certainly watching their charges in playing, team coaches and physicians have probably wondered

Of course we should enjoy our sport and the more people who get involved the better for everyone well. The more who enjoy a good netball or rugby match, or whatever – all the better – but lets try to keep the injury toll down. I do not think after all there is a single person who would argue that two deaths from concussion related issues is two too many.