Whitebaiting is a classic Kiwi past time and from mid-August through to the end of November, riverbanks throughout much of the country are lined with keen locals hoping to cash in on some of Godzone’s iconic “white gold”. Even though whitebait and the humble whitebait fritter is a delicacy well known throughout the country, they are a peculiar fish and most people don’t actually know what they are or where they come from.
Catching whitebait isn’t really fishing in the traditional sense of the word, as it does not involve a rod and reel. Instead whitebait are usually caught as they migrate upstream from the ocean in either a net or a trap. Whitebait nets are usually a large dip net, with very small mesh. It is either used from a river bank or by wading into a stream to actively target visible shoals of whitebait.
The other method is to trap whitebait using a cage or fixed net that is deployed from a river bank and uses barriers or nets to herd whitebait through a funnel, effectively trapping them. Some traps known as stands are permanent fixtures built into river banks and have been handed down through generations of whitebaiters.
Whitebait is unusual as they are the only species of fish in Godzone that can be recreationally harvested and then sold without quota. To make this even more lucrative whitebait has a market value of up to $140 per kilogram. This high dollar value causes a gold rush mentality and can draw large numbers of whitebaiters to the best southern streams during the season.
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