From August to November every year the estuaries of Taranaki are inundated with the migration of several species of juvenile galaxiid, and an individual species of net wielding hominoid. The galaxiid being our tasty translucent whitebait, and the hominoid being the fishermen trying to catch them. All those gracing the river banks dream of returning home with full buckets. But is it realistic?

Waitara Alive and the Ōtaraua Hapū are working with Waitara High School students to better understand the health of whitebait spawning along the Waitara River. The project is collecting GPS locations of appropriate spawning habitat, and assessing the health of these areas based on key criteria. Spawning site health is largely dependent on the level of vegetation covering the riverbank just above the high tide line, how protected this is from being trampled by stock or humans, and also water quality – although this is more important for adult fish.
A highlight of the project was the opportunity for students from Waitara High School to join the project team on a kayak trip down the Waitara Awa. During this voyage, students recorded and observed potential spawning sites, wahi tapu (sacred sites), and noted inputs into the river both natural (tributaries) and man-made (stormwater, industrial outflow etc). Representatives from Todd Energy and Methanex were present to support the project and explain their influence on the Waitara River and their commitment to environmental management.
The project is comparing present day spawning site health and abundance to historical evidence collected from local kaumatua. By comparing the past to the present the Inanga Ora project team hope to identify how spawning habitat is changing, and what can be done to better protect it.
Inanga Ora have science support from the Taranaki Regional Council and ecologist Shane Orchard. It is hoped results from this investigation can help educate locals as well as contribute to a national evaluation on the status of whitebait spawning.