Cook Islanders with a taste for the pricey Kiwi delicacy of whitebait will now have to hop on a plane – because New Zealand is to ban exports.
It’s a niche demand. According to Seafood New Zealand, Cook Islands and Niue combined imported only 5kg worth of whitebait in 2018, and none at all last year.
The majority of whitebait exported by New Zealand goes to Australia: more than a tonne of the tiny critters in 2018.
Karlene Taokia, the president of the Cook Islands Chefs Association, said there was “not really a massive demand” for whitebait in the country.
Taokia said many local restaurants had stopped using the product.
“I can’t think of anyone who does, unless it was on a specials board,” she said. “It is too expensive per portion any way. I don’t think that we will be too worried if New Zealand changes their law.”
The two leading local supermarkets in Rarotonga are no longer selling whitebait at their stores.
Anna Kairua, the purchasing supervisor at Primefoods, said they last imported whitebait in October, 2018.
Their purchase did not exceed a couple of cartons or 20 packets annually.
Primefoods sold whitebait for $11.30 per 250 grams packet.
“Whitebait is out of stock in New Zealand so we haven’t purchased any for a few months now. We had few queries from the customers at the beginning but we haven’t had any lately.”
CITC said they used to sell whitebait but not anymore.
According to NZ Herald, the proposal to put an end to the export of whitebait is part of their government’s new rules designed to protect several species of fish.
The proposed ban follows the passing of a bill last year that allows restrictions to be put on place on catching at-risk species, it says.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage told New Zealand Herald with four of the six species of whitebait currently threatened or at risk of extinction, action needed to be taken.
“Whitebait are a cherished part of Kiwi culture. We need to make changes if we want whitebaiting to continue and to maintain a healthy fishery long-term,” Sage told the Herald.
Meanwhile Karlene Taokia said Cook Islands would continue importing prawns, mussels and scallops from New Zealand and would use “our local trochus, ghost crabs, local fish and shellfish” to fill the void, if any, left by the planned ban on whitebait export.