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Tasmanian whitebait

Fact Sheet for Tasmanian whitebait (Lovettia sealii)

Fishing Status:

Following an extensive closed season since 1974, there has been a limited recreational season for the taking of whitebait in some Tasmanian streams since 1990. A separate Whitebait licence is required for whitebait fishing and the season will be from 15 September to 14 October 2001.

Distingushing Features:

Small fish with their dorsal fin positioned approximately mid-length along their back, just behind the origin of the pelvic fins. A lateral line and adipose fin is present, but they have no scales.


The adults when first entering estuaries from the sea, have a transparent body with their gonad and swim bladder visible. After spawning they are almost black, with no distinct pattern.


Commonly to 60 mm, but up to 77 mm.


Endemic to Tasmania, where they once formed the basis for a large commercial fishery. At certain times in most rivers today, their upstream spawning migrations still form a large component of the whitebait run.

Life Cycle:

Adult fish migrate upstream into the upper estuaries in late winter to early spring to spawn and then die. Eggs are attached to submerged logs, branches and rocks etc, the young hatch after 2-3 weeks and are swept downstream to the sea, where they live for most of their life.


Freshwater habitat includes lowland estuarine reaches of rivers with suitable spawning habitat. They form large schools during breeding time.


Unstudied, most feeding takes place at sea.

Why is it Threatened?:

Loss of instream habitat; In-stream barriers preventing migration runs; Overfishing; Contaminants entering waterway; Salmonid predation.

Tasmanian Distribution:

Occurs only in coastal streams, mainly along the north coast, but also in rivers of the west and far south-east.
Tasmanian whitebait

Photo: Wayne Fulton

Tasmanian Whitebait Fact File
Scientifc Name Lovettia sealii
Other Names Whitebait
Native Yes
Endemic Yes
Introduced No
Pest Fish No
Tasmanian Conservation Status -
Commonwealth Conservation Status -