Eels Deserve Our Protection

10 July 2012

Eels may not be the most attractive fish in our waters but a lot of people love them. Well, love catching and eating them.

Longfin eels are declining

Longfin eels are declining

What many people don't know is that the New Zealand longfin eel is declining and it's illegal to fish for them in Wellington's public waterways and streams. Nationally, their numbers have dropped so much over the past 20 years that they now have a higher threat ranking than the little spotted kiwi, kererū and saddleback.

Massey University freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy puts the eel decline down to things like intensive farming, urbanisation and commercial fishing.

"All of the impact is from agriculture and urbanisation. The barriers we put up like dams and culverts, the high levels of nutrients because of farming - affect the water's oxygen levels.

"Then in urban areas, it's people putting chemicals, detergents and paint strippers down drains that end up in urban streams."

Dr Joy also says many Wellingtonians aren't aware it is illegal to fish for eels in local waterways and that it's been a problem particularly for Owhiro Stream.

"The crucial thing for people to realise is the bigger ones are females and if they're a metre long - which is not unusual - they're going to be 100 years old."

With longfin eel numbers drastically declining, Dr Joy says people have to change their attitude to eeling.

"I don't think anyone in Wellington or the country would go out and catch a woodpigeon or a kiwi and take it home and eat it. So, I think people need to start thinking the same way about eels. They really deserve that protection."

Eels are protected in Wellington's public waterways under the Public Places Bylaw 23. If you would like to become involved in protecting Wellington's urban waterways, check the Nature Space website to find a care group near you:

Nature Space website

To learn more about our endangered longfin eel, go to:

Manaaki Tuna Lifeline for Longfins website