Loom­ing white-out for fish


White­bait sea­son is here again and many are won­der­ing if it will be a bumper year or a fizzer.

Of­ten we hear that the white­bait run is not like it used to be. Sto­ries of catch­ing them by the cart­load are long gone.

Now and then a bumper sea­son comes along and peo­ple as­sume that ev­ery­thing is ok. But is it?

The white­bait catch nat­u­rally fluc­tu­ates wildly, partly thanks to the weather. Since the catch is not a re­li­able mea­sure of how the fish are do­ing, we need to watch the adult pop­u­la­tions to un­der­stand what is go­ing on.

There the pat­tern is clear: white­bait are in se­ri­ous trou­ble. Four of the five white­bait species are pre­dicted to be ex­tinct by 2050, in­clud­ing the most com­mon species: inanga.

If we ban white­bait­ing to­mor­row, they will still de­cline to ex­tinc­tion, it just might take slightly longer.

White­bait­ing is only one cause of the de­cline – our de­graded wa­ter­ways are the big­ger prob­lem.

Un­for­tu­nately, fix­ing the wa­ter­ways will take a lot of time and ef­fort. We have abused our wa­ter­ways for decades and it will take many years for them to re­cover.

Time is sim­ply not some­thing that the white­bait have.

By the time the wa­ter­ways have im­proved enough to help the white­bait, they could al­ready be ex­tinct.

Ban­ning white­bait­ing or fix­ing the wa­ter­ways alone won’t save the fish. We need to do both.

Ban­ning white­bait­ing for now buys us time.

We then need to use that time to re­pair our wa­ter­ways. In the fu­ture, we can start white­bait­ing sus­tain­ably.

A white­bait­ing ban will be deeply un­pop­u­lar. But think about it this way: four of the five white­bait species are de­clin­ing and will likely be ex­tinct by 2050.

Long be­fore then, white­bait­ing will be­come point­less.

Con­tin­u­ing to catch and eat white­bait know­ing they are in dire straits, is like saw­ing off the branch you are sit­ting on.

I will be talk­ing about the plight of our white­bait and how we can save them at For­est & Bird’s monthly meet­ing on Tues­day, Au­gust 9, at 7:30pm, in City Li­brary.


White­baiters stake out White­bait Creek at Fox­ton Beach in the hope of catch­ing at least a pat­tie’s worth of their elu­sive quarry.

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