Rights: University of Waikato. All rights reserved. Published 19 March 2014, Updated 30 November 2017 Download

Whitebait is a food delicacy for many people. Researcher Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman talks about the five different species of fish that make up whitebait – īnanga, giant kōkopu, banded kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu and kōaro. She describes the life cycle of īnanga.

Nature of science

Science knowledge is constantly being updated as new research sheds light on the unknown. Since we interviewed Cheri, some spawning sites for the kōkopu and kōaro have been documented. There is however, still much to learn about these fish.


Whitebait is a sort of a collective term for those lovely sparkly fish that we collect and we put in our omelettes and they taste really good. But there’s actually five different galaxiid species in there. We have the giant kōkopu, the banded kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, kōaro and then the most common one which is the īnanga. Our people at Te Pūaha also talk about whitebait including at least one other species – they call it the number two whitebait – and that’s the common smelt, or our people call it pōrohe.

The īnanga is the most common one, and they tend to like spawning in the more estuarine, so the slightly salty water. They lay their eggs in the grassy verges, so literally a big king tide comes up the river from the ocean and lifts the water level, and the fish use that water level to get into the grassy verges on the edge, and they lay their eggs in there. And then the water level will drop again, and those eggs are sort of left there in these nice moist environments. And then the next king tide comes in, lifts the water surface up again and washes these larvae out to sea.

And so they are out there somewhere in the 200 nautical mile zone area and there are question marks as to what is actually happening to them out there.

The other fish – the kōkopu and the kōaro – again, there’s question marks about their spawning habitat, so a lot’s known about īnanga because they’re the most obvious to see and there’s heaps of them, but the kōkopu and kōaro tend to like the rocky, densely overhanging streams and tributaries.

We’re working with NIWA to train some of our people who live in those tributary catchment areas, giving them the skills to go out and start monitoring and try find out more information about the kōkopu and kōaro.

Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman
Stella McQueen
Blueether http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
Department of Conservation
Tony Eldon
Dr Cindy Baker, NIWA, Taihoro Nukurangi
Mahurangi Technical Institute
The Waikato Tainui College for Research and Development acknowledges the financial support given by the Waikato River Cleanup Trust Fund which is administered by the Waikato River Authority.

The Waikato River Cleanup Trust does not necessarily endorse or support the content of the publication in any way.