White­bait back to ‘gold-plated’ prices

The Timaru Herald - - Business - Es­ther Taun­ton

If you thought salmon was ex­pen­sive, think again – at al­most $140 a kilo­gram, this white­bait blows the much larger fish out of the wa­ter.

On a re­cent trip to New World in Porirua, Wil­liam Cor­bett was stopped in his tracks by a small sign ad­ver­tis­ing the white­bait for $139.90 a kilo­gram. ‘‘It re­ally sur­prised me, so I took a photo,’’ he said. ‘‘At least they had the guts to dis­play it as a cost per kilo in­stead of the usual trick of show­ing ex­pen­sive items as a cost per 100 grams.’’

Cor­bett said the con­tain­ers ap­peared full and he ques­tioned who could af­ford the high price and what would be done with any un­sold fish.

It is not the first time prices have been so high. In 2009, white­bait was ‘‘snapped up’’ at $130 a kilo­gram.

In 2010, it was pre­dicted that white­bait could reach $140 a kilo­gram, a level seen a few years ear­lier when bad weather ham­pered sup­ply.

Antoinette Laird, spokes­woman for Food­stuffs, which owns New World, said white­bait was sold in a hand­ful of stores and the av­er­age cus­tomer bought about 200g.

Whole­sale prices for West Coast white­bait range be­tween $60 and $70 a kilo but re­tail prices vary.

At Tak­itimu Seafoods, a 200g con­tainer costs $25 or $125/kg, while 500g of frozen West Coast white­bait from Solan­der Gourmet Seafoods is priced at $69.90, bring­ing it in at 10 cents a kilo cheaper than New

World Porirua’s fresh of­fer­ing.

Ja­son James, from Christchur­ch white­bait sup­plier The Main­land Trader, said he sold frozen white­bait in 250g and 500g packs, with a min­i­mum pur­chase of 2kg.

‘‘We have fixed prices for the whole year of $96 a kilo for eight 250g packs and $88 a kilo for four 500g packs, plus ship­ping,’’ he said.

‘‘When you see $139 a kilo, that is based on some­one like your granny ... buy­ing 100g at a time to make a few frit­ters.’’ James said 250g made seven frit­ters ‘‘with plenty of white­bait in them’’, so 100g should pro­duce three of a sim­i­lar stan­dard.

‘‘If that is all you want, you would prob­a­bly be happy to pay $14.’’

Ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DOC), sev­eral species of na­tive white­bait are in de­cline, with four classed as at-risk or threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion.

The man­age­ment of white­bait is cur­rently un­der re­view and DOC re­ceived 11,000 sub­mis­sions on its con­sul­ta­tion doc­u­ment.

Pro­posed changes in­clude des­ig­nated safe havens for white­bait to spawn, a shorter white­bait sea­son and the phas­ing out of white­bait ex­ports and large-vol­ume catch nets.

There are no plans to in­tro­duce a li­cens­ing sys­tem or ban the com­mer­cial sale of white­bait within New Zealand. In the mean­time, there are no catch lim­its for white­bait but fish­er­men are en­cour­aged to keep their catch small and to take only what they need.

White­bait for sale at an eye-wa­ter­ing $139.90 a kilo­gram in a Welling­ton su­per­mar­ket.

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