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.





Case Study on `what has made a group of year 10 students and their teacher decide to restore their stream and wetland’?

By Ira Seitzer (Former WBC Northland/National Coordinator)

A model group of dedicated Year 10 boys and their teacher, Stella Clyde, from Otamatea High School (OHS) in Maungatoroto, Northland and their natural stream/wetland restoration project, is the subject of the case study to be presented.

This project has received past and present support from numerous local individuals and organisations. They have included:

  • Students, staff and parents of Otamatea High School
  • Otamatea Country Club
  • National Waterways  Project
  • Whitebait Connection Programme
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Kaipara District Council
  • Fonterra (Maungatoroto)
  • Bill Worsford (horticulturalist)

 It is while in my role as ‘NWP/WBC’ facilitator for Northland, that I have had the privilege of being part of the support network for this project.

As mentioned above, the focus of the project sits with Otamatea High School and the wetland and tributary that enters the estuary in the upper Kaipara Harbour.

Back in 2002 science department staff at OHS contacted the Whitebait Connection Programme with a request for freshwater education and technical support.  The year 11 and 12 students became involved in learning about the technical and practical aspects of freshwater monitoring and habitat assessment and collating data for the Kaipara District Council.

The schools keen interest and acknowledgement about freshwater issues, environmental education and a willingness to provide their students with valuable learning experiences outside the classroom prompted on-going commitment to this important curriculum area.

An exploration study of a nearby stream took place with several Year 7 and 8 classes in 2003 which resulted in the wonderful discovery of good populations of adult whitebait (inanga).

Not surprisingly, considering the stream flows from a wetland area close by before it enters the Kaipara estuary.

Appreciating the importance of these native fish and understanding the threats to their habitat was enough to generate interest and commitment from an emerging group of talented Year 9 students.

The students responded to an invite from teacher Stella Clyde to form their own ‘environmental focus group’ to design and initiate a plan to improve the biological health of the stream, wetland and estuarine area.

This has resulted in a committed and well-managed team effort most often guided by their equally passionate teacher, Stella Clyde.  During 2004-2005 the following project aims and actions have been successfully implemented:

  • Gather site data and research – historical, present, future
  • Conduct biological assessments (EE focus group, Yr 11 EE students)
  • Design and present powerpoint slide show and project plan at public meetings
  • Present powerpoint show and project plan to other classes at OHS
  • Create a support network
  • Source and secure funds from Kaipara district council for fencing, plants
  • Explore other funding/sponsorship opportunities
  • Fence, propagate natives and plant wetland area with help from OHS ‘Workskills’course and Senior Horticultural classes
  • Attend and represent OHS at Youth Environmental Summit

How many students do you know that would spend their holiday break fencing off the local school country club wetland and planting natives in the pouring rain?  

Think:  Otamatea High School students. 

OHS have a unique group of environmentally-focussed boys who make the most of opportunities.  They have no doubts about making a phone call to the Mayor or writing a letter to Fonterra to ask for  support!

The group goal is to rehabilitate the wetland – stream – estuary and have walkways around the site which showcase the project work and promote environmental awareness and appreciation of the area. 

It takes dedication and vision to remain motivated and encouraged when working on projects such as these.

The school and students have counted on the support of external organisations and community members to provide advice and offer assistance with field work, resources and project planning. 

Positive communication and support is often an underestimated ‘key’ in the success of school and community projects. 

With teachers and students already undergoing enormous pressure to meet work and school demands, it is vital as environmental educators that we are able to continue to offer and provide quality assistance and resources for the duration of the project. 

"We are meeting again next Tuesday and would love to have your input if possible. Please can you get back to me asap.  I am inviting 2 local people - Bill Worsfold (re trees to plant and how it improves farm land) and Peter Yardley who has just recently taken a group of politicians around the Kaipara (by boat - to look at the possibility of getting trees planted around the edge of waterways etc.)
I really need your expertise and input to make sure this works and to keep me on track.
Clyde, Teacher, Otamatea High School)

The future is looking great with plans for the hort students to continue propagating many more natives for planting season next year and to fence the lower stream reaches.

There are also short-term plans to teach the students how to undertake a habitat inventory so they may record and collect relevant site data.

The boys have played with the idea of designing their own project website too! an ideal way to promote their project and encourage ideas and feedback.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about Otamatea High School and their EE group, I’m sure!

Ira Seitzer

NWP/WBC facilitator


September 2005