Whitebaiters could face season of declining catches

It's the first day of the whitebait season on the West Coast, but there's concerns the industry could be under threat.

One of the five whitebait species is threatened, with three others in decline.

Last year Police patrolled the Greymouth River, making sure whitebaiters were complying with the strict rules while the Department of Conservation (DoC) kept a close eye on population numbers around the country.

This year, on the banks of the Taramakau River, whitebaiters are settling in for season. Just a few hours in, time spent on the river banks was paying off.

"It's great, it's great. Nothing like the outdoors. It's like the gold rush days, you see a whitebait going in to your net and your heart rate goes up," says whitebaiter Sesil Teasdale.

DoC chief scientist Ken Hughey says making sure whitebait have a good habitat will help in the battle of depleting numbers.

"Yes we are concerned, but the science we have says concentrate on habitat and we are and hopefully that will lead us forward over time," he says.

"It's a bit like the old saying, one swallow doesn't make a summer and we don't know what that long term trend was in terms of the population."

But here on the Hokitika River, keen fishermen aren't worried about going home empty handed.

"You just go to be there to catch it - that's it," one says.