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.





The Whitebait Connection (WBC) programme is run under the auspices of the Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust (MTSCT).  One of MTSCT's trustees, Kim Jones, is the National Coordinator of the programme.  Another of MTSCT's trustees, Nicki Wakefield assists Kim in this role.  Both Kim and Nicki are based in Northland.
Highlights from around the country
  • Schools and communities from regions throughout the country have increased knowledge and understanding of freshwater environments & catchment restoration/management.
  • Canterbury are undertaking their 'Mudfish in Schools' programme and continue their very successful interactive classroom approach to stream investigations!
  • Marlborough South have reached a level where they can sustain the WBC programme locally through working collaboratively with DOC and MDC.
  • Northland have kept the mauri of WBC alive and wriggling thorugh developing national resources and hosting MTSCT's annual national marine and freshwater wananga in Rawhiti.
  • Gisborne have ventured into a range of new and innovative projects that will be documented on the new WBC website with photos. 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 in possibly a more homogenous way than in the past.
  • DOC’s profile in the community has increased and our partnership remains strong despite recent DOC budget cuts and restructuring.
  • Schools and communities have increased knowledge & understanding of and support for freshwater conservation/preservation and catchment restoration.
  • Website and Facebook – maintenance continues and traffic increases - over 5000 visits per month and over 100 'likes' on our Facebook page. 
Future Directions and Summary
     The MTSCT is committed to supporting the national delivery of the WBC, with Kim Jones as the national coordinator. The trust is actively researching alternative funding sources to help boost the national funding for this programme.
     Priority areas include our existing areas; Nth Canterbury, Northland, West Coast, Marlborough South, Wellington and Gisborne. Communications have also begun with Taranaki and Waikato.
     The technical manual has been receiving a review and rewrite and will be launched at our 2014 national wananga in Wellington.
    MTSCT will continue our partnership with DOC in the national delivery of the WBC programme, based on the success and benefits to both the environment, the community, the WBC programme and the Department of Conservation. 
    MTSCT aims to continue the spread of the WBC programme throughout New Zealand and are committed to the development of the programme and its resources, including improving website presence, national communication and evaluation, collecting data, facilitating Inanga Spawning site restoration/protection, collaborative partnerships, WBC national Hui, and the provision of a strong community engagement model to other coordinators.