President’s Report

Press Release: 2017 AGM Outcome

The West Coast Whitebaiters Association held its AGM on the 26th of August 2017, in Hokitika. It was a well-attended meeting, with an encouraging number of South Westland members.

Overall, membership is growing. This is encouraging, but there is still a way to go. The meeting decided to hold subscriptions at the current rate, and continue with our recruitment drive.

Mr Chris Pullen from Westland Milk Products was a guest speaker. Chris briefed members on WMP’s proposal to remove its outflow from the Hokitika River. He thanked whitebaiters for their forbearance, and encouraged them to communicate any instances of contamination they may spot, coming from the current outflow. Early information helps speed responses to problems.

Continuing gravel extraction from the Teremakau River was a contentious issue. The conditions of the latest gravel consent were described to the meeting. This included restoration of the river bed and bank at its conclusion. This consent expires on 1 September, which is the season’s start date. Normally, stand construction could start 14 days prior to the season beginning. Under these conditions that is not possible, but given the importance of the Bridge Project, whitebaiters accept the necessity. A recent inspection showed that significant improvements were achieved.  There was more that could have been done, but it appears that time ran out. Overall, whitebaiters are satisfied with the outcome. We believe the conditions applied to this consent sets the benchmark for other riverbed gravel extraction, where whitebaiters are affected.

Whitebait huts were discussed. The meeting was informed that DoC has withdrawn its previously stated intent to have traditional huts along the Hokitika River removed. The standard of huts was discussed, with an emphasis on unstable, even dangerous structures. Such structures damage the reputation of the majority of hut owners. The message was: improve, or remove. One such hut on the Teremakau is in such a state that it presents a danger to others. It is in all our interests to have this rectified promptly.

On the national front, concern was expressed over the growing calls to restrict whitebaiting, and stop all commercial whitebaiting. These calls are based on the constant outpourings of certain conservationists. These calls are based on flawed, incomplete research, and hearsay. The Whitebaiters Association’s position is that we promote the conservation of the species. But actions to achieve this need to be supported by proper research, not on knee-jerk reactions to the outpourings of a few evangelists. All parties agree that fishing only has a minor impact. Efforts need to focus on areas where more can be achieved. Picking on the whitebaiters is an easy option, not a good one.

The whitebait industry development proposal in the West Coast Growth Strategy was discussed. A key aspect of this proposal was the development of a sustainable industry.

To that end a research and development programme to improve breeding sites, fish passage, and water quality, along with research into the economic benefits to the wider West Coast, has been set up. $125,000 has been granted towards the project. More money is needed, and options are being explored, but this is a start. DoC is the lead party, and the association is working closely with them. We are also seeking to engage with people from within the industry. Some research has already been done, with more proposed to start in October. This work has implications for all New Zealand, and we are keen to promote it.

I will be visiting South Westland and Buller later in the season. We will publicise meeting dates closer to the time. In the meantime I wish all whitebaiters a safe, successful season.

Des McEnaney
West Coast Whitebaiters Association