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Wadeson Island habitat to support sustainable whitebait fisheries



Westland District Council is working on the collaborative Sustainable Wild Whitebait Fishery Project (SWWFP) with DOC, the West Coast Regional Council, Te Runanga o Ngati Waewae, Ministry of Business and Innovation and Ministry of Primary Industries. The Sustainable Wild Whitebait Fishery project was funded through the Mahi mō te Taiao Jobs for Nature Programme which helped to revitalise communities through nature-based employment and stimulate the economy post Covid-19.  One component of the SWWFP is work to create channels and improve the habitat for whitebait to breed at the Western end of Wadeson Island.

Project Lead, Alison Maccoll, DoC Ranger, says, “The Wadeson Island component is to be implemented by Conservation Volunteers New Zealand and builds on their previous work in the Island, it is part of a wider initiative to develop the area known as Wadeson Island for the enjoyment of the Hokitika community.”

In recent weeks Conservation Volunteers have been on the island to prepare for further works. “The brilliant team have been out there clearing weeds and ensuring that the diggers can start work on excavating more channels to keep this project moving,” advises Simon Bastion, Westland District Council Chief Executive. “They’ve also been dealing with any rubbish that has been fly-tipped into the area. Over May and June they have removed over 830kg of fly-tipping from the bushes and undergrowth.  Hopefully as people see what’s going on they will respect the area and take their waste to the transfer station instead.

In the near future the team will be planting around 6000 native trees in the area and there will be enhancements made to the tracks around that part of the island as a consequence of the SWWFP. We will have the diggers back soon to continue making more channels. The process isn’t a very pretty one, but the enhancement to the environment once the channels fill with water and the planting is completed will make up for that.

It’s exciting for the community to be able to share in something that will give back to the environmental wellbeing of the town and support our local whitebait culture. Going out to whitebait in the season is such a big part of the West Coast identity that we want to do as much as we can to support the survival of the species and the sport. The Concept Plan for Wadeson Island is available on our website.”

Whitebait continues to be an important food source for West Coasters and is of Cultural significance to West Coast Maori due to the connections between traditional food gathering and customary practices.

Historically, Wadeson Island would have been part of a mosaic of natural estuarine ecosystems including lush riparian margins of flax, rushes, kowhai and cabbage trees. Early maps from around 1866, show it connected to the South Bank with ocean-going ships tied up where the island is now. Previous works aimed to maintain the naturally functioning tidal channel adjacent to Hokitika supporting habitat restoration for Whitebait and wading birds and making the area accessible for the benefit of residents to the town.

Whitebait face a range of threats and pressures, including habitat loss, poor water quality, and fishing pressure. All four whitebait species that are threatened or at risk will benefit from this habitat enhancement mahi.

A variety of aspirations have been identified for Wadeson Island and what it might look like in the future. Workers will create up to 3km of new river channels for adult inanga to live in. Weed control, tree planting and earthmoving will enhance 18h of nearby wetlands for native birds and improve spawning habitat for whitebait species.  Enhancing the habitat for breeding adult whitebait is one of the main objectives of wetland improvement work on Wadeson Island, providing for adult inanga to hide as they are easy pickings for white heron and other predators. Providing a better home for these fish means more will survive to spawn.


Media enquiries to:

Emma Rae, Strategy and Communications Advisor