As the whitebaiting season opens, the Department of Conservation is hoping to harness on›the›ground experience to help preserve the future of the fishery in South Otago.
Th Doc’s Coastal Otago office has been running the Lower Clutha Whitebait Catch Diary Project since 2003.
The only project of its kind in New Zealand, it harnesses volunteer whitebaiters to record dates, hours fished, and catch, to create daily and seasonal catch per unit effort (CPUE) data for comparison with previous years.
DOC biodiversity ranger John Richardson said participation had slowly increased as whitebaiters became increasingly aware of the need to safeguard the fishery for future generations.
‘‘Along with experience and a bit of luck, a good whitebaiting season is a complex combination of environmental variables — including rainfall, water temperature, tide and sea conditions.
‘‘But if poor whitebaiting seasons became more frequent across the Lower Clutha, identifying this trend quickly would be important. Whitebaiters can play a key role by sharing their basic catch records at the end of each season.’’
Catch records were confidential and could be reported anonymously, and whitebaiters taking part in the project received a copy of the resulting end of season report.
‘‘As well as pinpointing the most productive days and weeks for whitebaiting each season, records provide auseful indicator of the amount of whitebait in the Lower Clutha catchment.
By comparing this information to previous years, we have a basic tool for monitoring the general health of the fishery.’’
Mr Richardson encouraged whitebaiters with an interest in conserving the fishery for the long› term totake part this year.
‘‘The more whitebaiters participating in the project, the more accurate the picture becomes. If you net or have a stand on the Koau, Matau, Puerua River, or any other waterway in the Lower Clutha catchment, sharing your basic catch records could make a significant difference.’’
Either written or online catch records could be shared.
Participants should email [email protected] or text 027 226›5140, stating their preference.
The season starts today, and runs to October 30.