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.





Gisborne Whitebait Connection 

Coordinators - Murray Palmer and Amy Hardy

DoC Contact - Trudi Ngawhare

Gisborne's goal is to deliver schools and their communities practical, holistic and inspiring information and education about local freshwater environments and to promote positive changes in attitudes and behaviour towards them. 


They've ventured into a range of new and innovative projects. These include mapping the ecology of all the waterways in the Gisborne region - in partnership with schools and community groups - and developing relative restoration plans with students, whanau and the Gisborne DC and Wairoa DC.


Murray and Amy have coordinated & delivered the WBC programme to many local schools including; Whangara School, Gisborne School, Ilminster Intermediate, Mahanga E Tu Inc. Society, Mangapapa School and Mangapapa Stream Restoration Roopu, Te Rongo I Te Kai Marae; Ruatoria Schools.  Some feedback from students and teachers below:


Lisa Maniapoto, Principal Whangara School: "Created a local awareness of water ecosystems throughout the community. By teaching our children, the whole whanau has become aware of local environmental issues. Our children have taken a positive kaitiakitanga (guardianship) role.


Chuck Ngaira, Kaiako Ka Timata Alternative Educaton Centre: "As a result of their [Whitebait Connection team] ability to un lock the mysteries of learning, we have seen students who have been alienated from mainstream education develop their own passion for conservation, sustainability, guardianship and career paths."


Stormy, student Te Turanganui a Kiwa Activity Centre: "Yesterday we went to Nuhaka. At first I thought it was going to be dumb but I was wrong. It was mean. I got the most bugs out of all of us.



  • New WBC school, Ilminster Intermediate, students and teachers are extremely enthusiastic about engaging in an extensive year long programme which integrates freshwater and marine studies (also doing the EMR programme) with the Discovery Science Centre and community responsibility.  Restoration sites have been identified and an initial baseline understanding of the protected area has been developed.  Plans for engaging landowners have been established, and the students will be driving the research.  Their future plans involve commencing a “full centre cluster” participation which includes; developing a database (in conjunction with GDC), extending buy-in from the wider community, commencing stream surveys and a replanting/restoration program.  This is along-term project that will be eventually sustained by the school.
  • WBC collaboration with Mahanga E Tu Incorporated Society (MET Inc) on the “Mahanga Stream, Wetland and Beachfront Protection Project” has enabled community education in aquatic ecology and land use planning as well as a heightened level of active protection for Mahanga Stream as part of a wider wetland/stream/coastal protection and enhancement focus.
  • Te Ronga I Te Kai Marae and Ruatoria Schools have used biological indicators to assess stream health that has close links with Tangata Whenua indicators (fish, birds, invertebrates) and undertaken wider catchment mapping and evaluation.
  • The coordination of the 'Tairawhiti Stream Ecology and Catchment Management Workshop', which was attended by WBC, school teachers, Gisborne District Council and environmental NGO's.  Improved relationships and networks (government organisations, schools, communities)'.  Through this, WBC Gisborne was able to bring together potential participants/educators with the goal of having a regionally based implementation of the WBC concepts and objectives.  They are now working together more collaboratively and another workshop is planned with the group to have input into the 'Urban Development Strategy'.