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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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Whitebait is the name used in New Zealand for the young stage of the inanga or “minnow”, Galaxias attenuatus. The adults of this fish are 4–6 in. long, greenish-yellow in colour, and occur in practically all New Zealand's lowland rivers and streams, belonging to the “native trout” family (Galaxiidae). In autumn they move down stream to estuaries where, during high spring tides, the eggs are laid amongst aquatic vegetation. The eggs hatch when reached by the following spring tide (two weeks later) and the larvae pass out into the sea. It is uncertain whether the young fish return in the spring of the same or the following year; these juveniles are transparent when they enter fresh water, but quickly become pigmented. The same fish occurs in Australia and in South America.

In an average season the whitebait catch along New Zealand rivers is considerable and, with the aid of deep-freeze methods and air transport, supplies can readily be sent to distant markets. During the 1964 season the West Coast of the South Island – to cite one district alone – had a catch of over 140 tons, and the 1965 season began with a promising yield from the Buller River.

by Lawrence James Paul, B.SC., Fisheries Division, Marine Department, Wellington.


Lawrence James Paul, B.SC., Fisheries Division, Marine Department, Wellington.