Eugenie Sage denies rumours of a blanket ban on whitebaiting amid rising concern

Whitebaiters have raised concerns over the potential impacts caused by changes to the legislation protecting indigenous freshwater fish.

The Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill, a Bill to regulate and protect the whitebait population particularly in protected areas, had its second reading in Parliament last month.

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage is adamant that a ban on whitebaiting is not on the cards - however, Sage does believe New Zealand could be doing better. 

While the nets are out in force on the West Coast, there is an undertone of concern that this year may be the last of its kind.

"We're looking after what we're doing here on the West Coast. I don't think there should be any major change," says whitebaiter Colin Skates.

But Sage says more than 70 percent of the country's indigenous fish are threatened or at risk of extinction.

"I think New Zealanders want a sustainable fishery and they don't want to be eating threatened fish," she told Newshub.

Exactly how that will be achieved is still up for discussion, but fishing restrictions around spawning sites in conservation areas will play a big part. 

Whitebaiter Gary Manifold says there is no problem with the whitebait population. 

"I've been here many years and each season gets better, so where they're getting their statistics from... I'm blowed if I know," he told Newshub.

Last month National MP for Invercargill Sarah Dowie suggested there was a desire for whitebait prohibition in those conservation zones - but the Minister denies this.

"The National Party is muddying the waters with misinformation," Sage says. "There is absolutely no plan for a blanket ban on whitebaiting,"

A consultation document on the proposed changes will go out to the public later this year.