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.





Inspiring schools and communities near you!!!!! 

Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR)


Imagine snorkeling amongst a dense kelp forest, surrounded by dozens of fascinating new life forms, a frenzy is created on top of the water, someone has spotted a crayfish, everyone is taking turns to dive under to get a glimpse of a Cray crouching under a ledge. Students come up gasping for breath, but feel rest assured by their adult, buddy and bright yellow body board for time out. Some large snapper cruise past to see what the fuss is about. Gurgle sounds come from a snorkel, an eagle ray rests on the sand below. The kids are easy to spot in their bright yellow & black wetsuits. The parents come in buzzing, the kids madly tell their mates about how big the snapper they saw was and how many different fish they saw, this is normal conversation during Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) programme delivery.


The Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) programme empowers schools and communities by providing hands-on experience in the ocean. The programme involves investigating marine biodiversity and the local marine environment before venturing to a fully-protected marine reserve. After this experience, students are able to compare unprotected and protected areas and are encouraged to put their knowledge into action within the community.

The highlight and essential component of EMR is to visit the schools closest marine reserve. Comparisons between ‘unprotected areas’ and marine reserves can then be made. By comparing reserves with other areas it ensures the children (and parents) have the opportunity to form their own opinions based on actual experience.

For the final stage of the programme it is time to do something for the environment such as an investigation as to where a marine reserve would go, share findings with the local community or run a public survey or make a submission about marine conservation. Because the ideas come from the children, it is possible to develop sensible and positive discussion in the community about what can otherwise be highly controversial subjects. This exercise empowers students to express their feelings and findings. Over the years students have been involved in a range of action projects, from writing letters to their local authorities to letters to Members of Parliament, presentations in front of assembly to presentations at public events. Opua School performed their marine reserve skit & waiata to the Minister of Conservation and other dignitaries at the opening of the WhangareiHarbour marine reserve. Students have designed tee shirts, written letters to the editor. The range of topics the students often cover include pollution, bottom trawling, critically endangered maui’s dolphins, rahui and marine reserves. All this helps to promote a more caring attitude towards our beloved sea!

Marine reserves are vitally important for the conservation of marine biodiversity for future generations, and provide unique educational and inspirational opportunities. EMR sets a basic building block for the establishment of marine conservation areas around New Zealand . The young people of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, and their attitudes will shape society. Therefore, marine education is vital, to protect marine resources and biodiversity for the future.