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Catching Whitebait in New Zealand

Whitebaiters spend long hours to fish precious whitebait with the nets

Best time: West Coast, South Island: September–mid-November | Elsewhere else: August–November

Catching Whitebait
Catching Whitebait
Catching Whitebait
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Catching whitebait in New Zealand's lakes and rivers is quite a challenging activity. Firstly, the fish is practically translucent. Secondly, it is rather tiny, ranging from 1 to 2 inches (25–50 mm) in length. The quick schools of whitebait seem to be intangible. The process requires great patience, composure, and persistence to stand still with the nets until​ you catch the precious treasure. You will spend much time and trial your endurance, yet eventually, you will get the most expensive seafood delicacy and feel proud of such an achievement.

Where & when to catch whitebait

In the North Island, the main whitebaiting areas are located south of Auckland, namely on the rivers between Taranaki and Wellington, the Waikato River, and also in the Bay of Plenty. However, whitebait is also caught in the northern part of the island, around Parengarenga Harbour. As for the South Island, the fishery runs along the entire coast from Golden Bay to Southland. The West Coast offers the most abundant harvests, but also shorter season from September to mid-November, while elsewhere the period is extended to August and late November.

Practical info

When is the best time to catch whitebait in New Zealand?

Whitebait is caught in New Zealand during a specific period when the fish migrate upstream from the sea to freshwater to spawn. The ideal time for whitebaiting depends on the part of the country. In the West Coast of the South Island, the period is from September to mid-November, while elsewhere, it's from August to late November. Fishers wait with their nets in the water to catch the small, translucent fish during this time. Show more

Where are the main whitebaiting areas located in the North Island?

The main areas for catching whitebait in the North Island of New Zealand are along rivers south of Auckland between Taranaki and Wellington, on the Waikato River, and in the Bay of Plenty. However, Parengarenga Harbour, located in the north of the island, is also a spot. The whitebait fishery runs along New Zealand's coast from Golden Bay to Southland on the South Island. Show more

What is the average size of a whitebait fish in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, whitebait fish are thin, transparent, and small, averaging between 25 to 50 mm (1 to 2 inches). They swim in groups and are challenging to spot in the water. Fishermen keen on catching them use nets and spend long hours in rivers or lakes delicately trying to lure and catch these tiny fish, regarded as a seasonal delicacy in the country. Show more

How long does it usually take to catch a significant amount of whitebait?

To catch a significant amount of whitebait, large-scale nets are more efficient than hand-held nets, which take time, courage, and persistence. It might take a few days, even several hours, to achieve an excellent catch, depending on several factors. Fishers require patience, allowing the whitebait to accumulate before scooping them out of the water delicately. Show more

Are there any regulations or restrictions on whitebaiting in New Zealand?

Whitebaiting in New Zealand is subject to legal regulations and restrictions. To catch and sell whitebait, people need a fishing license. Only handheld nets with a mesh size of no more than 36 mm are allowed to ensure catching only juvenile fish. The season runs from August 15 to November 30 annually, with altered daily catch limits in various regions according to government guidelines. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin