Tasmanian Recreational Whitebait Fishery
Tasmanians can again take up the much-loved pastime of whitebaiting with the annual opening of the whitebait fishing season at the start of October. The season runs for six weeks from 1 October to 11 November in selected rivers around the State. Reports from the South and North of the State are that the whitebait runs are just beginning, with only a small number of fish being sighted making their way up some rivers. Hopefully, the high flow rates will subside enabling a solid run of whitebait and good numbers of fish available to fishers.
The season opening is a good time to remind people to help sustain the whitebait fishery by abiding by the regulations, which are aimed at protecting fish stocks while allowing everyone to get their fair share of the resource. The consequences of not doing the right thing can be expensive, with severe fines imposed for poaching and the use of illegal fishing equipment. In addition, the Inland Fisheries Service has a history of successful prosecutions against poachers, and has strengthened its compliance in recent years with the assistance of Tasmania Police in joint surveillance and enforcement activities.
Whitebait fishing regulations
If you want to fish for whitebait, you must hold a 2009 Whitebait licence (separate from a 2009-10 Angling Licence) and be aged over 10 years. You can buy a Licence, which costs $26.60, from selected agents and Service Tasmania stores (listed below). You must also abide by whitebait fishing regulations, which govern the catch and possession limits, and the method of fishing, as well as the season, time and waters open for whitebait fishing.
Whitebait can only be taken between the hours from sunrise to sunset. The following waters are open for whitebait fishing during the season this year: Little Forester, Brid River, River Tamar including Trevallyn Tailrace, River Derwent, Huon River, Rubicon River (except 50 m below the weir), Don River, Forth River (except within 100 m below the weir), River Leven, Inglis River, Black River, Duck River (except within 50 m below the weir), Pieman River and Henty River.
The maximum daily catch is 1 kg, the maximum catch per season is 10 kg and the maximum quantity that can be held by a license holder at any time is 10 kg. The whitebait net must not be greater than 120 cm in circumference and should not be fitted with any additional device (funnels, screens, wings etc) aimed at diverting fish into the net and impeding their escape. It should carry a tag showing the whitebait licence number held by the user who must be within 8 m of their net when fishing.
Whitebait is a collective name for several species of small (30 - 70 mm in length) Tasmanian native fish that migrate from estuarine and coastal regions each year, forming upstream schools or "runs" typically during late winter and spring. These whitebait runs may be composed of six to eight different species of fish, usually dominated early in the season by the Tasmanian whitebait (Lovettia sealii) or by juveniles of the common jollytail (Galaxias maculatus) and spotted galaxias (Galaxias tuttaceus). Climbing galaxias (Galaxias brevipinnis), Tasmanian mudfish (Galaxias cleaveri) and smelt (Retropinna tasmanica) are also often present in low numbers. The species composition of the runs varies with tide, time and location. Most whitebait are juveniles, with the exception of Lovettia which are adults migrating to spawn.
History of the whitebait fishery
A recreational and commercial fishery for whitebait operated in Tasmania since the 1940s but both were closed in 1974 following several years of poor catches. The basis of the commercial fishery was the Tasmanian whitebait (L. sealii) which was taken in large quantities during this period, resulting in a major crash in its population and the collapse of the fishery. The main reason for the collapse was that the commercial fishery targeted spawning adults, which were removed before they had a chance to spawn and complete their one-year life cycle and this species has a naturally low reproductive success rate.
Monitoring of Lovettia populations showed that the species recovery after exploitation is extremely slow. However, research in the late 1980s showed that there was potential for a sustainable recreational whitebait fishery, providing fishing effort and timing was tightly controlled. As a result, a licensed recreational fishery for whitebait was reopened in 1990 but was limited to selected rivers, season and times, and with a restricted catch rate to ensure the sustainability of the fishery.
Sustainable fishery management
The sustainable management of the recreational fishery is aimed at protecting populations of Lovettia, which are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. The timing of the season and the selection of certain rivers, therefore, is designed to target the runs of juvenile common jollytail (G.maculatus) and spotted galaxias (G. tuttaceus) rather than Lovettia. By targeting whitebait species in the latter-part of the seasonal run, the majority of adult Tasmanian whitebait have an opportunity to spawn while the anglers keen to target whitebait, have the chance to lawfully take fish.
Participation in the fishery over the past seven years has fluctuated due largely to the fishery's dependence on seasonal weather variations. It is particularly affected by high water flows due to winter rains and spring floods, which tend to hold back and disperse the runs. In 2003, the season was delayed to the start of October to avoid high water flows in early spring and in 2006, the Whitebait Fishery Management Plan was released, resulting in the extension of the season by two weeks to enable whitebait fishers greater opportunity to capture their seasonal limit.
Number of Whitebait Licences sold from 2002-08
The Whitebait Fishery Management Plan also identified those rivers susceptible to over-exploitation and developed a strategy for managing select rivers on a two-yearly rotational open-close system. A postal survey of whitebait fishers was also undertaken to gather catch and effort data on the fishery, in order to monitor and manage its sustainability.
Since its closure due to over-exploitation in the 1970s, the whitebait fishery has been characterised by poaching, which has slowed the recovery of Lovettia numbers. It has also required significant compliance resources although the extent of poaching has decreased since the early 1990's. Repeat offenders commit many of these offences which are more frequent in the North West of the State.
Compliance operations are being targeted towards commercial scale operations and repeat offenders in order to protect the sustainability and recovery of whitebait populations. Fishery rules have also been modified in recent years to enable poachers to be prosecuted more effectively.
If you witness or know of any illegal fishing activity, please contact the Inland Fisheries Service immediately, during office hours on 6261 8050 (or 1300 463474), or after hours on 0408 145768.
Courtesy of IFS