Illegal whitebait structures on the increase in local rivers

Concrete plinths, wooden platforms and a pallet jetty are amongst the dozens of illegal structures erected in Canterbury’s rivers this whitebaiting season.

An increase in complaints from members of the public has led Environment Canterbury to visit waterways this week to speak with whitebaiters and assess the scale of the issue.

Environment Canterbury’s Zone Delivery Manager Paul Hulse says that new structures are being constructed all the time.

What's the problem?

“There are some quite significant structures in our waterways, installed in an attempt to reach whitebaiting nets further into the river. Some of them are nearly as substantial as a jetty or deck, while others are simply pellet rafts dug into the river bank,” he says.

“Recently, someone has even built a new concrete structure in Waimakariri’s Cam River, in a clear breach of the Land and Water Regional Plan.”

Read the regional council’s rules around erecting structures in a waterway.

An illegal whitebait structure in the Kaiapoi River

An illegal whitebait structure in the Kaiapoi River

An illegal concrete structure in the Cam River.

An illegal concrete structure in the Cam River.

 An illegal whitebait structure in Christchurch’s Avon River/Ōtākaro

An illegal whitebait structure in Christchurch’s Avon River/Ōtākaro

Why are they a problem?

“These structures are illegal because they have a serious environmental impact. Aside from breaching Department of Conservation rules prohibiting fishing from a fixed structure, and being a public safety risk, they change the hydraulics of the river and cause bank destabilisation, flood risk, and sediment issues,” says Paul Hulse.

Late last summer, Environment Canterbury removed about 20 illegal structures from the Cam River alone. Paul Hulse says that this year, Environment Canterbury is adopting a wider focus.

“We have noticed an increasing number of structures being installed in rivers across our region. We’re also aware that in residential red zone areas, there are fewer people to notice new structures.

Spot an illegal structure - report it

Members of the public have an important role to play in protecting our natural resources, and we encourage anyone noticing these structures to call our 24-hour Environmental Incident Response Line on 0800 Pollute,” he says.

If you're contacting us about an environmental issue which involves contaminants in waterways and/or unauthorised discharges to land or air, it's important to notify Environment Canterbury immediately by phone on 0800 765 588 (24/7).

Alternatively, the Snap, send solve app is a good way to report an environmental incident.

Paul Hulse says that Environment Canterbury’s resource management officers visit the river to talk to those using the structures about concerns voiced by the community, and allow time for them to be removed, before issuing abatement notices or fines.

“Voluntary compliance is our best outcome, both because the bill for removal is otherwise footed by the ratepayer, and because we’re not interested in moving the problem further along the river. We’re not trying to make life difficult for whitebaiters, but at the same time, it’s pretty crucial that we protect the environment our native fish live in,” he says.