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Scientists call for more whitebait data

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 7/12/2016

More catch data are needed to get a clearer idea of whitebaiting's sustainability, scientists say, after several regions reported a lacklustre catch this year.

The season closed last week for whitebait fry, which are the juveniles of five species of galaxiid.

Unitec senior lecturer Dr Stephane Boyer says he doesn't believe whitebait fishing practices in New Zealand are sustainable.

He says the big issue is that it's not known which of the species are being caught because they look similar.

"Among these five species, three are declining and one is recognised as a threatened species," he said.

"Yet we fish, sell and eat them all without distinction."

Canterbury University research associate Dr Mike Hickford said comprehensive catch information was needed to give an idea of longer-term trends.

"We have no idea if fluctuations in the whitebait catch are even related to fish stocks, let alone whether the whitebait catch is in decline," he said.

Dr Hickford said the whitebait fishery had always been regionally patchy and varied enormously from year to year.

"It's also the case that whitebaiters have notoriously short and fluid memories," he said.

"Many of the people who describe this year as yet another lacklustre year conveniently forget that last year (or the year before), they had a great whitebaiting season."

Massey University senior lecturer Dr Mike Joy said the lack of requirement for whitebait catch records meant people had no idea whether current practices were sustainable.

"However, we do know that the number of adults is declining and their distribution is reducing,"

"This is according to 30,000 site record in the New Zealand freshwater fish database."

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