Whitebaiting on the West Coast

Described as a “religion” by the famous Kiwi novelist Keri Hulme, the pursuit of whitebait has long been an iconic part of New Zealand life and culture.

The largest volume of whitebait in New Zealand is found on the West Coast of the South Island. As an important seasonal industry, during whitebaiting season visitors and locals alike flock with nets and buckets to the region’s rivers in the hope of catching some of these precious little fish. One of the few species of native New Zealand fish that can legally be harvested and sold, whitebait is a high value commodity. Last year one kilogram of whitebait retailed for around $120.

If you’re intending to try your hand at whitebaiting on the Coast this year, there are a few things you need to know.

Rules and regulations

The West Coast has its own set of rules when it comes to whitebaiting. Whitebaiting season on the Coast runs from 1 September to 14 November. This is shorter than around the rest of the country, where the season stretches from 15 August to 30 November. West Coast whitebaiting is also governed by a number of strict regulations. These include using only one net, never being more than 10 metres from your net, no fishing on bridges, specific sizes for equipment and restricted hours for fishing. Whitebaiting is also only permitted between the hours of 5am and 8pm (6am and 9pm during Daylight Saving).

For everything you need to know about whitebaiting rules and regulations for the West Coast, check out the DOC website. Be sure to follow these rules closely - penalties for failing to observe whitebait regulations can land you a hefty fine of up to $5000.


If you’re planning on going whitebaiting, you’ll most likely need a net. The type of net you choose is largely dependent on your environment. Scoop-nets are best for fishing in lagoons and river mouths, whereas set-nets allow for a more relaxed approach and are perfect for setting up on the edge of slow-moving rivers. Sit back and soak up the atmosphere - no doubt there will be fellow “baiters” on hand to share their stories.


There are a number of different tried and tested techniques for catching whitebait. Whitebait are extremely sensitive to sudden movements and to shadows on the water, so make sure your movements are careful and wear neutral coloured clothing. To make sure you get the most taste out of your whitebait, it’s a good idea to keep some ice on hand so the little fish stay alive longer and will taste fresher.

For more information on activities on the West Coast, check out Glenfern Villas. Glenfern Villas offer luxury accommodation and the perfect place to relax during your stay on the West Coast.



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