New regulations for whitebait fishing


Whitebait plays an important part of our ecosystem as well as our culture, as a national delicacy. It is also an important traditional source of kai for Māori. Protect the environment and follow the rules this whitebaiting season.

Whitebait are the juveniles of six species of fish. Four of the six New Zealand whitebait species are classified as at risk or threatened

Whitebait fishing regulations have been revised this season to improve sustainability of the species. 

New season dates

The whitebait fishing season now runs from 1 September to 30 October inclusive nationwide (except for the Chatham Islands). In the Chatham Island the season runs from 1 December to the last day of February inclusive.

Whitebaiting rules

The national whitebaiting regulations have not been revised since the early 1990s, so it’s important to be aware of the changes before enjoying this treasured past time.

  • You are only allowed to fish where water levels are affected by the tide.
  • Do not fish within twenty metres of any: tide gate, floodgate, confluence, culvert, weir, groyne, outfall structure, or unlawful diversion. You’re also not allowed to fish from any bridge or vessel.
  • Screens are the only device allowed to divert whitebait into a net, they are limited to three metres maximum length.
  • There is also a minimum distance of twenty metres between fixed fishing gear.
  • Permanent and temporary structures are not allowed to be built on the bank or bed of a waterway. 

You can see a summary of the regulations on Department of Conservation (DOC)’s website.

Whitebaiting from the banks of the Waimakariri to protect the environment

Whitebaiting from the banks to protect the environment

Protecting waterways

In Canterbury, permanent and temporary structures are not allowed to be built on the bank or bed of a waterway. 

Our Regional Leader of Compliance Monitoring, Steve Firth says structures can cause ‘serious environmental impacts’ and have been an issue previously.

“Structures can change the hydraulics of the river and cause bank destabilisation, flood risk, and sediment issues, which impacts the habitat of native plant and animal life,” he said.

“Concrete plinths, wooden platforms, and pallet jetties are some of the structures that have been removed in the past.

“We ask that everyone who takes part in whitebaiting this season fishes from the bank without the use of structures. Doing this creates an equal opportunity for everyone fishing in the community and will avoid action being taken under the Resource Management Act (RMA).” 

Warning about detergent and outdoor burns

At this time of year, we remind whitebaiters not to use detergent or cooking oil in the waterways.

“It is illegal to discharge these products as they can be very harmful to river ecology and the fish that live there,” Steve said.

While enjoying the outdoors, avoid air pollution and stay safe by not making fires on the banks of urban streams, rivers, or regional rivers.

“Most people are doing the right thing but, for those that aren’t, we want to ask them to comply with the regulations to protect the environment and avoid fines.”

How do I report issues?

If you see an activity while out using the waterways that could be damaging the Environment, please call Environment Canterbury on 0800 765 588 (24 hours) to report an environmental issue, or use the Snap Send Solve app to report an issue from your mobile phone.

If you are worried about the safety of property or persons, then dial 111. 

Find out more