Between August and November every year, Taranaki estuaries become inundated with migratory species of juvenile galaxiid and an individual species of net wielding hominoid. The galaxiid are better known as tasty translucent whitebait, and the hominoid as the fishermen trying to catch them. All those gracing the river banks dream of returning home with full buckets. But is this dream a reality?

Waitara Alive and the Ōtaraua Hapū are working with Waitara High School students to better understand the health of whitebait spawning sites along the Waitara River. The project is collecting GPS locations of appropriate spawning habitat, and assessing the health of these areas based on criteria such as the level of vegetation covering the riverbank just above the high tide line, how protected this is from stock or human impact, and water quality – although this is more important for adult fish.
On November 17, students from Waitara High School joined forces with the Inanga Ora project team, instructors from Canoe and Kayak, representatives from Todd Energy and Methanex, to form the Habit@Hunters. The group spent the day paddling down the Waitara River identifying good spawning habitat, wahi tapu (sacred sites), river inputs (both natural and man-made), and noting surrounding land use and riverbank modification.
The project is comparing present day spawning site health and abundance to historical evidence collected from local kaumatua. By contrasting past with present, the Inanga Ora project team hope to identify how spawning habitat is changing, and what can be done to better protect it.
In 2018, during the whitebait spawning season, the project will check to see how many of the areas identified as potential spawning sites actually harbour spawning.
Inanga Ora have science support from the Taranaki Regional Council and ecologist Shane Orchard. It is hoped the results from this investigation can help educate locals as well as contribute to a national evaluation on the status of whitebait spawning.