Saturday, September 27, 2008

Let me take you whitebaiting on the West Coast of New Zealand....

Ok folks, put your gumboots on, your waterproof leggings, raincoat. You may like to pop some gloves in the pocket of your coat, and bring a thermos with hot coffee in it! We are off whitebaiting!
(please note these pics have been taken over 2 mornings, one morning it was raining and the other was not)

For those of you who don't live in New Zealand, whitebait are a fish native to NZ, and are only allowed to be fished for from 1st September to the 14th November on the West Coast. This may vary in other areas of the country as each area has its own rules and regulations. On the West Coast fishing is only permitted between 5am and 8pm. These fish are very much a delicacy and fetch incredible prices.
All these platforms out into the water are called stands, they can be found along the river mouths, where the river meets the sea, and they are everywhere along the West Coast rivers. Each season these fishermen and women errect all these stands, they bring in small huts, which store all their gear and food etc... for the season. At the end of the season all this has to be removed and there is to be no evidence that anyone was there. During Whitebait season, these river mouths turn into mini villages.

No person fishing is permitted to use more than one net at a time, and you are only allowed one whitebait net per stand. Every person who has a net out, must at all times remain within 10 metres of it or the stand to which it is attached. Each fisherman has to be 40 metres or more from another fisherman, and they are not allowed to fish in places that are not tidal.
The NZ Department of Conservation closely monitors strict rules and anyone found breeching them is up for a $5000. fine.
Meet Alan, (above and below). He lives on the East Coast of South Island of NZ and has travelled here for the last 13 years to fish for whitebait. He fishes from his stand when the tide is high enough, and when it is out he takes his net off the stand and puts it further out into the water.

This is Alan's little hut. He lives out of this little hut for several weeks of each year. However he has to build it and dismantle it at the beginning and end of each season. Since he has been coming to this spot he has stored all his fishing gear under the bridge, close to where it butts up to the road. It has never been stolen. He has a large gas bottle and cooking gear in his hut, and is totally self sufficient.
One one side of the stand is Alan's net, on the other side of the stand are an odd assortment of boards, plastic tubing etc. These are used to detect the whitebait as they cross it, they make the whitebait more visible.

Alan decided to bring the net in and check the amount of fish.

The net is untied and all the little whitebait are tipped into a bucket of water. They are then tipped onto the sluice, where he cleaned out bits of twig and leaves and any unwanted fish.

Mmmmmmm!!! I love whitebait! I was really drooling by this stage!! The most common way to eat whitebait is to make them into fritters and eat a fritter hot between two pieces of freshly buttered bread! Alan reckoned the secret ingredient in making good fritters was adding beer! I noticed he had several empty beer bottles outside his hut!
The whitebait spend part of their life cycle in fresh water and part in the sea. The tiny fish hatch in late autumn and are carried along rivers out to sea where they live and grow over the winter. In the early spring the whitebait migrate back up the rivers and streams where they live in the bush covered streams.

Dosen't this look a lovely tranquil place to fish? But I though I'd include the following pic to give you some idea of the reality of it! All these fishermen and women were only to happy to have us poke about with our cameras, they were very friendly and enjoyed talking about their hobby.

Peace and quiet as the photographers leave and the whitebait fishermen of the West Coast get back to doing what they did before we arrived.

Hope you enjoyed your fishing trip, you can take your boots off now, and warm up in front of a nice fire!



Julie said...

My Nanna used to love whitebait. In England these are also known as sprats and I think they are different from your New Zealand Whitebait. European whitebait are a member of the herring family. My Nan used to toss them in flour and fry them. I remember them being brought to her wrapped in newspaper and she would get really excited at the prospect of whitebait for tea. Thank you for reminding me.

Margaret said...

Love this series of pics, you've captured the atmosphere so well. Brings back some nice memories... M:)

Nona Parry said...

Awesome doco, Carole! Good on ya!

Tiglizzyclone said...

I was just following some blog links. Interesting photos. I learned something new today from your blog.

Beel Den Stormer said...

I traveled around New Zealand 10 years ago, heard of whitebait and have been intrigued since. I had two opportunities to eat it while in New Zealand- lovely. I am a professional fish biologist and think your series of photos of whitebait fishing is excellent. (As an sometimes blogger, I am extremely impressed with your productivity and longevity.)