First whitebaiting of season

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Catch of the day...Gore man John King caught enough whitebait on Friday on the Mataura River for a small pattie. PHOTO:SANDY EGGLESTON

John and Pam King have had their first taste of whitebaiting for the season.

The Gore couple were down at the Mataura River, near Gorge Rd, on Friday setting up nets on their two whitebait stands.

Under Alert Level 3 rules people may whitebait but not stay at the river.

Mr King said the couple had been whitebaiting at the spot for about 12 years.

“We don’t get huge amounts,” Mr King said.

“We’re happy to get 10 pounds [4.5kg] a season really.”

Not many whitebait were about on Friday and just “enough for a small fritter” swam into their nets.

More were being caught downstream and some were saying “a run was coming”.

“We’ve heard all that before.”

While they enjoyed eating the delicacy fresh they also gave a lot away.

Mr King retired in October and was looking forward to spending time at the river, but the recent lockdown had interrupted his plans, he said.

Mabel Bush farmer Roger Stratford has a stand upstream from the Kings.

Mr Stratford said he had heard whitebait were being caught downstream on Thursday.

“It will take two days to get here.”

Department of Conservation operations manager Murihiku John McCarroll said the department’s priority was stopping the spread of Covid-19 and most staff were working from home.

“Because of this, we have not had any staff out actively patrolling whitebait locations in the Southland area at this stage.

“However, if we become aware of any issues at popular locations we will reassess.

“What we really want to see is people making good decisions about what’s permitted at the different Covid alert levels and respecting nature and the rules in place.”

This season there were new rules and regulations in place for whitebaiting.

“First and foremost we’ll be taking an educational and advocacy approach.

“We’re hoping people have some knowledge about what they can and can’t do under the new regulations,” he said.

“We will escalate to infringement or prosecution for continued breaches of the new rules.