Whitebait fritters – feast for the future

Katrina Knill —  12/10/2009


I’m all for a whitebait fritter, but I wonder how many people realise that they are eating the young of some of our rare native fish as they chow down on this kiwi classic?

Ranger Dave tells me that the fish that hang out at the top of your bucket and try to crawl out are the most rare – the short-jaw and giant kokopu which have a threat classification of gradual decline.

‘Whitebait’ are the juveniles of five native fish species from the galaxid family.  Inanga are the most common species, but white-baiters may also capture the young of giant kokopu, shortjaw kokopu, koaro and banded kokopu.

It’s because of their rarity that there’s rules in place about whitebait fishing times, locations and methods aimed at giving the fish a sporting chance at long-term survival.

Our staff have been busy over the last few weeks responding to enquiries and reports of illegal fishing and patrolling popular fishing spots to make sure people are following the rules.

It’s not a fun part of the job, at times they get abused, threatened and caught up in fights between fishermen over the best fishing spots.  And then when prosecutions are made, the staff have to sit around in court waiting for cases to be heard.

We’ve had lots of reports of problems on the Rangitaiki & Tarawera Rivers lately, so last week our team from the Gisborne Whakatane Area undertook a patrol along the rivers in conjunction with the Edgecumbe Police.  They talked to more than 30 fishermen, whom all appeared to be following the rules which was great news.

Being caught for fritters is not the only challenge that our finned friends contend with – their habitat and spawning grounds are disappearing as wetlands are drained, streamside vegetation removed, stock allowed to graze the river margins, aquatic weeds and pest fish are released or spread and barriers to fish passage are placed in waterways.

So by all means enjoy your whitebait fritters but if you’d like future generations to enjoy them too think about what you could do;

and if you have enough for a fritter, consider letting the fish at the top of your bucket back into the stream.

Katrina Knill


I work for DOCs Tauranga Office, where I co-ordinate our public liaison efforts with stakeholders & the general public. I get to work with our staff and community groups as well as helping out in emergencies such as forest fires, whale strandings and dealing with injured birds, seals etc.

4 responses to Whitebait fritters – feast for the future


    Thanks Steph
    It’s fun to write too!


    The blog’s a great idea. What an awesome way to share what DOC’s up tp in the community.

    Bill Hutchison 19/10/2009 at 4:04 pm

    Hi great blog .I have some questions 1) Why are whitebait the only fish or shellfish that don’t have a limit? 2) Why do I se people selling whitebait should this not be illeagle? I feel Whitebaiting should be licenced like trout fishing and the money raised from this used to protect wetlands and the habitat that whitebait need to survive. cheers Bill (Tauranga)


      Good questions Bill, sorry for a slow response I was out of the office most of last week.
      Really it comes down to what the legislation (Whitebait Fishing Regulations) that was passed in 1994 allows or restricts.

      The Department can only manage the fishery within the bounds of those regulations which do not currently enable a quota or licencing system, nor do they prevent commercial whitebaiting.