Saturday, December 4

Confusion reigns over Covid-19 alert level whitebaiting rules


By Diane mccarthy and Hazel osborne, Whakatāne Beacon Emergency Services Reporter

Mixed messages from government departments are causing confusion among biters about whether they are allowed to fish.

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A net of white bait (file image)
Photo: RNZ Insight / Teresa Cowie

Department of Conservation (DOC) media and communications manager Bronwyn Saunders told the Whakatane Beacon that whitebaiting was not allowed at alert level 4, while police appear to have given it their blessing.

With the blockage falling right at the beginning of the whitebaiting season, many people have been making use of their free time to practice whitebaiting. Up to 20 people have been seen at a time on the banks of the Rangitaiki River in Thornton and more fishing on the Whakatāne River.

“As government health orders focus on encouraging people to stay home and go out alone to buy essential food and medical care, and that any exercise must be local and low-risk, it is clear that gagging is not allowed. “Saunders said.

However, DOC rangers are not regulating fishing as they are not essential workers.

The DOC website also lists whitebaiting as one of the activities that is not allowed at alert level 3, but it is listed on the government’s Covid-19 website as a permitted activity at this level.

A Thornton resident, who asked not to be identified, is upset that police are turning a blind eye.

“Every day more people come in their cars and the police have stopped coming because they don’t want to be seen doing anything. I’m really disappointed in the police,” he said.

“The government’s message is pretty clear to stay home except to buy food or access medical help. These people are putting us all at risk of even longer confinement.

“I have had first-hand reports and discussions on the main excuses and it seems to be a mistaken belief that tangata whenua are not restricted by the level 4 rules. A dying man told me that backpacking is a traditional activity that is allowed under the Rules. Covid Lockdown Some people have gotten quite abusive to some of my neighbors when they have been told they weren’t supposed to commit stunts.

According to the police, the biters are not breaking any rules.

Sergeant Major Al Fenwick said the best information the police had was that the white bait, or food collection safely, was correct. He said police were taking a common sense approach to the activity.

As long as no bubbles were broken, people stayed close to home, did not travel to participate in the white bait, and stayed safe on land; the activity was allowed.

This would remain his focus, although he cautioned that it could change.

The Thornton resident said he had contacted police, DOC, Ministry of Primary Industries and Whakatāne district councilors on the matter and knew that breaches had been reported to the Covid-19 compliance center.

“The simplest solution would be to suspend the trash season until we return to level 2, to clear up any doubts and help save the country.”

Whakatane District Council Engagement and Communications Manager Alexandra Pickles said the issue was not within the council’s domain.

“The government has provided clear guidance through its Unite Against Covid-19 website. The Whakatāne District Council is supporting all guidance and messaging through official channels,” Pickles said.

“If members of the public are concerned that someone is not following the rules, violations can be reported to the Covid-19 Compliance Center via covid19.govt.nz and dealt with accordingly.”

Saunders also referred people to the government’s Covid-19 compliance website to file complaints if they had concerns about people breaking the rules.

“The DOC is not responsible for compliance under alert level 4, that would be a matter for the police. We are clear about this and it aligns with the government’s instructions for people to stay home and only leave for essential purchases, local health care and exercise. “

On the government’s Covid-19 website, people are asked not to go swimming, surfing, boating, hunting, or doing any other outdoor activity at alert level 4 where they could be injured or lost. Whitebaiting or other land fishing is not specifically mentioned.

The website says that whitebaiting is allowed during alert level 3.

At this level, fishermen must fish locally, stay within two meters of other river users, and not use motorized vehicles to reach their fishing spot.

They must also legally comply with all applicable whitebait regulations, including fishing from riverside or water’s edge, not entering the water, and not using a boat to fish.

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Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Association of News Publishers, and NZ On Air.


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