Protecting native eels a team effort

The Hokonui Taiao Wai-Māori (Freshwater) team, in collaboration with the Alliance Group Mataura as part of their Resource Management Act (RMA) consent obligations, is playing a vital role in the conservation efforts for New Zealand’s native eels, known as tuna.

Situated at Te Au Nui Pihapiha Kanakana (Mataura Falls) within the Mataura Mātaitai Reserve, this team conducts translocation services for elver, the juvenile stage of the tuna, ensuring their safe passage upstream.

Tuna begin their lives in the sea and migrate to freshwater habitats where they spend most of their lives before returning to the ocean to spawn.

The migration typically occurs during warmer weather, making it a critical time for their conservation.

Unfortunately, the natural barrier presented by the Mataura Falls impedes the elvers’ journey upstream.

To overcome this challenge, the translocation process involves deploying specialised capture bins and conveyers near the falls.

These devices safely capture the elver, allowing them to be collected, weighed for monitoring purposes, and then translocated upstream.

The importance of this conservation effort cannot be overstated.

Tuna serve as indicators of health of our rivers and streams, making their preservation crucial for maintaining ecosystem balance.

In the 2022 season, the translocation efforts resulted in the transfer of 22kg of elver upstream, highlighting the success of the programme in ensuring the propagation of tuna for future generations.

However, the following year, the 2023 season, there was a stark decline. Only one single elver was captured, weighing less than 5g.

This decline underscores the importance of ongoing conservation efforts to safeguard the future of New Zealand’s native eel population.

Through the dedication and collaboration of the Hokonui Taiao Wai-Māori Team, Alliance, and other stakeholders, the translocation services at Mataura Falls are making significant contributions to the preservation of tuna, ensuring their continued presence in our ecosystems for generations to come.

— Hokonui Runanga floriculture office manager Shelley Karena