Endangered giant whitebait released into waterways

A species of giant whitebait bordering on extinction is about to be given a new lease on life.

Thousands of kokopu have been bred in captivity and were released on Saturday into Tawharanui Regional Park, north of Auckland.

The native giant kokopu whitebait can grow to more than half a metre in length, but they're rare in the wild.

Breeding in captivity has been successful enough to spark New Zealand's largest ever whitebait reintroduction.

"We can breed hundreds of thousands of them in captivity no problem at all, and so it's now really great when you get the community and the councils and so on to do up the habitat," says Paul Decker of New Zealand Premium Whitebait.

Getting to this point has been five years in the planning, so it's important the release is done right. Buckets of water from the stream are tipped into the tank the whitebait were transported in, giving them time to acclimatise. After half an hour or so, they're transferred into buckets, before being set free.

Until Saturday there were no giant kokopu in the streams of Tawharanui Regional Park. But because it's a sanctuary and a marine reserve, the hope is by releasing 10,000 of them it will allow them to flourish.

"It's in a regional park, so these fish are protected. They can live their lives naturally," says Auckland Council park ranger Matt Maitland.

"There's no ability for people to come here and fish for them as they would in other waterways."

All going according to plan, the move will give the species a taste of freedom in the wild, before we get a taste of them in a fritter.