Whitebait are the juveniles of five migratory galaxiid species, and with the addition of a sixth species (common smelt) they are targeted in New Zealand’s iconic whitebait fishery.
This recreational fishery is open to all New Zealanders during a defined fishing season. It supports lifestyles and livelihoods nationwide and is particularly important in rural areas as an aspect of food resilience and since it generates considerable visitation and association tourism revenue. It also has high cultural value to Māori, as a mahinga kai and traditional food source.
The sustainability of the whitebait fishery is now a high priority. In recent years the long term viability of the fishery has been questioned in light of the conservation status of the five migratory galaxiid species that are targeted (Goodman 2018). These fish are caught in their juvenile stage as they migrate from the marine environment to fresh water to complete their life cycles (McDowall 1988, 1991). Four of the five species are currently either ‘At Risk’ or ‘Threatened’ under the New Zealand Threat Classification System (Dunn et al. 2018), indicating that improved conservation is needed.
University of Canterbury research is at the forefront of whitebait conservation and fisheries management. Read more about our current and previous projects in the articles below, and feel welcome to drop us a line anytime.