Early settlers named the whitebait species 'Galaxid', after the galaxy, as they thought that the spots on their backs looked like stars in the night sky.

Whitebait catch consists primarily of the young of three species: inanga, koaro and banded kokopu; inanga is by far the most commonly caught species.

Giant kokopu, short-jawed kokopu and smelt are also occasionally present in the whitebait catch along with the young of many other fish such as eels, bullies and trout.

Most whitebait species spend part of their life cycle in fresh water and part in the sea.  However, some have adapted to being landlocked in lakes and no longer have to migrate to the sea to breed e.g. dwarf inanga.


In late winter and early spring whitebait migrate back up rivers and streams, finally settling and growing in bush covered streams and swamps. The start of the migration is thought to be influenced by river flows (i.e. shortly after floods) and phases of the moon.


Mature inanga adults migrate downstream to lower river sections and estuaries to spawn in grasses covered by water during spring tides. The eggs remain in the grass until the next spring tide covers them again when the young hatch and are carried out to sea. The spawning habits of other whitebait species are not well known.


The five galaxiid species are found in many different habitats from lowland swamps to rocky streams. Their presence appears to be closely tied to overhead cover and waterside vegetation.


Giant kokopu live in swampy and heavily vegetated streams, often in pools over a mud bottom. Short-jawed kokopu, banded kokopu and koaro prefer fast flowing rocky or boulder bottomed streams with forest cover. Inanga are less "fussy" but are generally found in lower catchment waters.


One of the major problems affecting the whitebait fishery is the destruction of habitat for egg laying or adult fish. As whitebait adults tend to live in natural swamps and bush covered streams it is in the best interest of whitebaiters to ensure that adequate areas of these habitats remain.


The Department of Conservation has been active in identifying whitebait spawning habitat and arranging for its protection. Protection has involved seeking the co-operation of landowners to have spawning areas fenced off from stock. The Department sees the protection of whitebait spawning habitat as playing a major role in enhancing the lasting viability of the fishery.


Another major problem is barriers that stop young fish from getting to adult habitat.


Please note that whitebait are native fish and the giant and short-jawed kokopu are under threat in many areas!


Your assistance in keeping the whitebait fishery healthy not only benefits you, but the health of New Zealand's natural living systems. Don't take more than you need.





What is The Whitebait Connection (WBC) programme?

For most Kiwis, the word ‘Whitebait’ is closely associated with ``fritter''.   But our environmental education programme called "The Whitebait Connection" or "WBC"  is changing that association for many New Zealanders, young and old.

Whitebait is a collective term describing the juvenile stage of
six species of native freshwater fish that migrate in large mixed shoals from the sea to freshwater rivers and streams during the season.

The way we use our land directly affects the health of our streams, rivers, estuaries and the sea. In fact, it affects us all.  By looking at the life in a stream, we can draw many conclusions, about the state of health of the stream and about the lands that surround it.

The Whitebait Connection provides knowledge about freshwater ecology and the effects of land management on freshwater quality.

Schools that participate in the Whitebait Connection programme will also learn about freshwater bugs or macroinvertebrates, as they are known. The term invertebrate refers to life forms without spines. In this case they are basically insects whose larval stages occur in streams and rivers and that feed on algae, leaf litter or other invertebrates.

These creatures are not only indicators of water quality, (as some are more tolerant to pollution than others) but they also form the primary food source for our freshwater fish.

As well as being on the menu of many New Zealanders, Whitebait are on the menu of the Kahawai and the Kingfish that swim into the estuaries to feed.  Since the Kahawai itself is an irresistible morsel for a hungry Marlin you can see how in ecological terms, the Whitebait has a connection to a world much wider than its own.

The Whitebait Connection programme has been raising awareness of this connection since 2002 in
several regions throughout New Zealand.

Why do we do it?

New Zealand has 425,000 kilometres of rivers and streams, almost 4,000 lakes larger than 1 hectare in size, and about 200 groundwater aquifers.  By international standards, freshwater in New Zealand is both clean and in good supply. However, some aspects of water quality are getting worse in areas dominated by intensive land use. Demand for water is increasing, particularly in areas that are already water-stressed (Ministry for the Environment, 2007).

There are various government and NGO initiatives being delivered around the country in a bid to reverse the degradation and promote the conservation and preservation of New Zealand's fresh waterways.  For example, The Dairying and Clean Streams accord, which is targeted at farmers to get stock out of waterways or local government riparian planting initiatives e.g. Taranaki District Council. 

The world is changing, evidence suggests that people are becoming more and more aware that there is something wrong with our environment – and that we are playing a part in it.  However, many New Zealanders don't know exactly what it is that is wrong, how they are connected and how they can make a difference.

Now, more than ever before – we need people on the ground engaging communities with the environment.  Not only that, but we need to take it a step further and get communities involved in the active restoration of these environments.  It is no longer acceptable for us to be a nation of observers – it's time to get to work.  But before people can get motivated to make a difference, they need to get connected.  This is where the WBC programme becomes so vital.  WBC focuses on the living things – we engage communities with the environment to view the biological beings that are at stake.  We highlight the connections between land and sea to encourage big picture thinking. We connect communities with their local government organisations and get them involved in established restoration projects.  If there aren't any restoration projects happening, we provide a foundation from which to get them happening.  No other freshwater education programme in New Zealand offers this unique outlook and foundation.

WBC Mission statement

To foster understanding of life sustaining capacities of aquatic eco-systems, by engaging school children, teachers, parents and the wider community, in an ecological and largely outdoor practical inquiry about streams and catchments and to encourage and facilitate any restorative actions that may result from that enquiry.

Programme Summary and Introduction

The WBC is a Stream and Catchment environmental education programme. The programme offers specialist advice concerning freshwater ecosystems and their critical role in sustaining life. Furthermore, WBC delivers interactive, holistic in-stream learning experiences. Participants develop sound knowledge and understanding of their local waterways, and the environment as a whole. As such, they explore key environmental education concepts such as interdependence, sustainability and biodiversity by learning about freshwater ecosystems. Consequently, personal and social responsibility for action, and recognition and respect for Māori concepts are developed and nurtured.

Statement of Intent

It is the intention of the Whitebait Connection Programme (WBC) that any capital investment into the programme will benefit the greater good of the people of New Zealand by restoring, maintaining and enhancing biodiversity, ecosystem health and ecosystem services.


WBC offers a wide range of services related to Education for Sustainability and freshwater ecosystems.
• Environmental consultancy in freshwater biodiversity, macroinvertebrates, fish species, ecosystem restoration and management, and biological monitoring methods
• Education for Sustainability workshops and presentations to educational and industrial conferences, stakeholder networks and community groups
• Planning, coordination and delivery of WBC training and the MTSCT National Marine and Freshwater Annual Wananga
• Support regional and national WBC coordinators
• Educational resources – WBC hosts an extensive range of resources and equipment
• Advocacy agents
• Funding application support
• Individual and group facilitation and training
• Host organization to RSNZ teacher fellows and interns
• Host the WBC website
• Photographic archive of WBC activities

Community Engagement Programme

As a Stream and Catchment environmental education programme, WBC has been developed in accordance with the New Zealand Curriculum framework, identifies clear and direct links to the science curriculum and, in particular, the aims of education for a sustainable future. Furthermore, it can be integrated into other essential learning areas providing a context in which essential skills are developed.

The programme focuses on learning experiences in the natural environment by offering enquiries into freshwater biodiversity, human impact and catchment management issues. The programme aims to assist in developing participant’s skills, attitudes and values, thus preparing the next generation of New Zealanders for their stewardship role.

The experiences and the positive feedback WBC has received during its development have reinforced our commitment to the delivery methods and philosophy that have been developed. WBC is committed to an ongoing relationship with schools throughout New Zealand, and believes that personal contact with schools is pivotal in implementing the shift in the teaching and learning paradigm promoted by both WBC and LEOTC programmes.