Some thoughts on the New Zealand whitebait, sea gulls and the health of our rivers – their habitat…
Last week en-route to visiting family in South Canterbury I stopped off at a few east coast beaches, and in one instance walked to the mouth of the Waitaki River to look at what was present in regards photography, and found [as hoped] some white baiters:
Then on my return home and getting into writing here I asked myself: “What are whitebait?”
Turns out it’s not a single species, but five species of the fish family Galaxiidae. All around 4–5 centimetres long and delicious to eat in more countries than just good ‘ole New Zealand.
In spring, often after a flood clears they swim upstream usually near the edges of rivers big and small, on a rising tide and during daylight hours
So what’s environmental photography got to do with little fish?
I’ve known for some time that what I thought of in my magical childhood as the common seagull being more a pest than anything [at age 5 poos from one landed on my ice cream!], I now realise the black billed gull is in the sad state of being the most threatened gull species in the world!
So too are white bait declining in numbers!
Is there a link?
Probably! Gulls feed in rivers [see below], and even more so since open “rubbish dumps” have turned into sanitised “transfer stations” thus denying gulls scavenging rights, and easy food during breeding times.
All over New Zealand the water quality of rivers has declined due to run-off from intensifying agriculture, and other reasons less obvious. And as it does so, “runs” of whitebait decline, no doubt due to spawning grounds being compromised.
The largest whitebait runs still occur in South Westland though. And guess what? There is very little or no intensive farming going on upstream – no coincidences here!
But lets get back to the Waitaki River on the east coast and ponder the health of the river bed between the river mouth as above and the Waitaki Dam upstream near Kurow – a distance of about 60 Km.
The Waitaki hydro scheme is a series of interconnected lakes and canals used to generate electricity. It’s made up of eight hydro stations on the Waitaki River the oldest and one closest to the sea being the Waitaki Dam.
A promise was made before the flow of the river was managed by Meridian Energy that river flows would be maintained in such a way as to ensure the river bed stayed in it’s natural state pre dam building. This has sadly never been honoured by any of the managing bodies.
New Zealand’s three native species of päua are distinctive because of their amazing multi-coloured shells. Päua are very important for Mäori. I’m not sure why there were so many piles of them as above scattered all over the stones.
Lastly writing this has made me aware that there are many laws to be honoured by fisher people in regard to paua and other delectable water and river based life forms that can be caught, cooked and eaten.
If the laws are broken and the perpetrator is caught they’ll be up for a heavy fine and even jail, yet big businesses such as the dam owners are not held accountable for operating procedures that do worse by destroying the habitat!
Run the above images as a galley slide-show, click any thumbnail below: