Buller District Council

Council makes difficult decision about whitebaiting

28th August, 2014

After receiving oral representations from wharf white baiters the Council took further legal advice to establish whether or not there was any way that council could permit whitebaiting in the wharf areas without exposing the ratepayers to liability.

Mayor Garry Howard says that the expert legal advice established that the Council is the controller of all the white baiting stations and that they are places of work for the purposes of the health and safety Act.

In such circumstances liability is easily found, and even if no harm actually occurs, a failure to take all practical steps, could result in a prosecution of the Council. The legal experts inspected some of the stations and observed that the present condition of some of those stations could be sufficient grounds for a prosecution.

The potential penalties are large. Organisations such as the Council can face fines of up to $3million and individuals face up to 5 years imprisonment and/or $600,000 fines. These penalties cannot be insured against and any cost would fall straight to ratepayers.

“Councillors were keen to take a stance that caused as little disruption to whitebaiting as possible. We are extremely mindful of the traditions around white baiting in the wharf areas and were hopeful of finding a way that could allow at least some whitebaiting, without putting the ratepayers at risk” says Garry.

“Sadly there is no easy answer. The new legislation has a dramatic effect on how the Council has to manage health and safety risks, and WorkSafe New Zealand, as the new and firmer regulator, has already expressed a public commitment to prosecute the public sector.

As a consequence we have regretfully concluded that the only safe answer is to prohibit whitebaiting in all areas on or under the various wharf structures. Council will work with Westport Harbour Ltd to identify the exact boundaries, but in general terms the entire wharf area will be off limits”.


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