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Red-light districts help whitebait thrive

Published: 6 September 2018
  • Shelley Hackett - Senior Healthy Waters specialist

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Submerged in whitebait!

You never know where you might end up.

Shelley Hackett never thought she'd be running 'love hotels' for īnanga (whitebait), for example, but rivers run where they will. 

Shelley is one of Auckland Council's senior community waterways specialists, and works across the region helping endangered īnanga breed. Recently, she’s given a helping fin to Henderson-Massey and Hibiscus and Bays local boards as they restore the īnanga spawning habitats in their areas. 

I’m all out of love – whitebait edition

Whitebait all over Auckland are struggling to breed and their populations are declining, with a number of factors contributing to the lonely state of the endangered fish.  

  • Artificial construction: barriers and weirs in rivers often block whitebait from reaching their breeding habitats, trapping them in the wrong area of the river or injuring them as they try to get up.
  • Farming intensification: whitebait lay eggs in vegetated areas next to streams; modified riverbanks and livestock grazing at the edge of streams spoil the habitat for the fish and leave their eggs high and dry.
  • Pests: rats and mice feast on whitebait eggs on stream edges
  • Pollution: nutrient run-off and sediment fills the spaces between rocks in stream beds, making them uninhabitable for whitebait.

On an īnanga mission 

To save the love-starved fish, Shelley has been working to help them breed.

Henderson-Massey Local Board has backed Shelley’s mission getting Community Waitakere and the Whitebait Connection on board to assess sites for potential inanga spawning and installing artificial spawning habitats at four sites across their area.  They’ve now got the community on ‘Īnanga Lookout’ and are planning to restore five more spawning sites, remove weirs and protect egg sites from pests.

Meanwhile, Hibiscus and Bays Local Board has started surveying streams for potential spawning sites with the Whitebait Connection. The community on-board to help monitor, restore and protect several sites – with a special splash of help from Ōrewa North Primary and Ōrewa Primary schools.

They’ve now got the community on ‘Inanga Lookout’ and are planning to restore five more spawning sites, remove weirs and protect egg sites from pests.

Meanwhile, Hibiscus & Bays Local Board have submerged themselves in whitebait work, surveying streams for potential spawning with the Whitebait Connection. The community is on-board to help monitor, restore and protect several sites – with a special splash of help from Orewa North Primary and Orewa Primary schools.

How to help whitebait

There’s plenty more Aucklanders can do to help whitebait. If you want to get involved you can:

  • fence off rivers and streams from farming stock
  • avoid introducing exotic fish, such as trout which feed on whitebait, into local waterways
  • restore and enhance wetlands
  • renovate dams and weirs that prevent whitebait from migrating upstream and maintain stream flows at levels fish can survive
  • carry out pest control on rats and mice that eat whitebait.