Research to take guesswork out of whitebaiting
New research into whitebait fishing will address whether whitebait are in decline and assess the impact of commercial and recreational whitebaiting on the long-term sustainability of the species.
The multi-disciplinary project led by University of Canterbury Research Associate Dr Mike Hickford will be the first to integrate ecological and fishery data to understand whitebait population dynamics.
"There is a general belief that adult populations of most of New Zealand’s whitebait species are declining nationwide, but it is unknown whether overfishing is to blame, or if other factors have disrupted the lifecycle of these fishes," says Dr Hickford.
"The whitebait fishery is at a crossroads, but there is little basis to select an effective management strategy."
Dr Hickford says the whitebait fishery is unusual because it targets small, immature fish, so it is difficult to determine the degree to which whitebait fishing has flow-on effects on future populations.
The new research uses innovative experiments in rivers closed to whitebaiting to isolate fishery and habitat effects on populations, analyses previously unavailable data to reconstruct catch statistics, and develops new methods to assess catch and effort and establish a baseline to determine future changes in the fishery.
The research team includes UC’s Distinguished Professor David Schiel, and Professor Angus McIntosh; Professor George Perry from University of Auckland; Dr Shane Orchard from Waterlink Consulting; and Dr Eimear Egan from National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
"We’ve known for years about the increasing pressures on these iconic taonga species,” says Dr Hickford.
"Our research will provide information urgently needed to support critical decisions on the future of the fishery. Along with our end-user partners and management agencies, we aim for the recovery of whitebait species and their return to ‘non-threatened’ status.
"Together we plan to overcome the current guesswork approach to the integration of conservation planning and fisheries management, while there is still time to reorient the fishery towards long-term sustainability."