A limited licensed recreational fishery for whitebait has operated in Tasmania since 1990. This is focused on the upstream-moving schools or runs of whitebait, which occur in coastal streams, rivers and estuaries around the State during spring and summer months. A separate whitebait licence is required by people over the age of 10 years to take whitebait in specified open waters during a six week period from 1 October to 11 November each year.
The term 'whitebait' is a collective name for small transparent native fish that migrate from the sea into rivers and streams. It includes any of the following species; whitebait (Lovettia sealii), jollytail (Galaxias maculatus), climbing galaxias (Galaxias brevipinnis), spotted galaxias (Galaxias truttaceus), Tasmanian mudfish (Neochanna cleaveri) and Tasmanian smelt (Retropinna tasmanica). The whitebait runs are composed of these species, although species composition varies with tide, time and location. Most whitebait are juveniles, with the exception of Lovettia sealii which are adults migrating to spawn.
Prior to the present recreational whitebait fishery, a small commercial fishery operated in Tasmania. The commercial whitebait fishery existed in the early 1930’s but it was probably in the early 1940’s when significant commercial fishing commenced. This activity prompted the introduction of a commercial licence for whitebait fishing in 1944. The fishery boomed in 1947 but harvests declined in subsequent years until the commercial fishery was closed permanently in 1974. Prior to this, there were short-term closures and further deregulation despite obvious declines in the fishery. Since the closure the fishery has been subjected to persistent pressure from illegal fishing.
A trial season for recreational whitebait fishing commenced in 1990 following a study of whitebait stocks in the late 1980’s. This trial was successful and formed the basis for the present annual recreational fishery.
In 2006, a management plan was developed for the fishery to protect populations of whitebait species while enabling a small legal catch of whitebait for personal consumption. The Whitebait Fishery Management Plan 2005-10 outlined general principles and specific aspects that underpin the management of the fishery. This plan has been reviewed and replaced with a new five year plan, which is focused on the regulatory aspects while the management principles established in the previous plan have remained unchanged