Planting to benefit whitebait and people

11 September 2013

The last 800 plants are set to go in at Whirokino near Foxton this weekend as part of a joint effort to restore native whitebait habitat along the Manawatu River.

Experts from the Department of Conservation and University of Canterbury along with Horizons staff identified the area as the largest known inanga (whitebait) spawning site in New Zealand during a workshop organised by Horizons Regional Council in March.

Since then, over 2,900 plants have been planted along the bank to provide shade and wind protection for the precious inanga eggs.

Horizons freshwater coordinator Lucy Ferguson says Saturday’s planting will be led by local iwi group Muaupoko Tribal Authority and is one of several native fish and whitebait habitat restoration projects to receive funding under the Manawatu River Leaders’ Accord.

“The Whirokino project is a fantastic example of collaboration between iwi, councils and community,” Ms Ferguson says.

“Since March, multiple agencies, organisations and community groups have come on board to participate in planting days and work to enhance the area; not just for whitebait but for people as well.

“Horowhenua District Council recently installed two picnic tables at the site and on Saturday we’ll be unveiling a sign that explains a bit more about the site and whitebait lifecycle alongside a call to get involved.

“I know Muaupoko are really keen to see the momentum continue and we’re currently looking at opportunities for spawning habitat restoration on the other side of the river.”

Spokesperson for Muaupoko Tribal Authority Robert Warrington says the project is all about giving back to the Manawatu River; a source of pride for local iwi over centuries.

“The longer term goal for Muaupoko is of reconnecting the river’s pathway from the mountains to the sea as nature intended it to be. In the meantime, these riparian plantings are the seeds that will eventually enable the fishery to lift its head over other river uses.

“It was not that many decades ago when the whitebait were measured by the acre, then by the bucket and now, grams,” he says.

The whitebaiting season is currently underway, with whitebaiters able to try their luck in the Region’s waterways between 5am and 8pm (changing to 6am to 9pm once daylight savings begins) until November 15.

It is hoped current efforts will give inanga a greater chance of survival, boosting the whitebait catch and population for the good health of the river in years to come.