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.