Why Should We Act Now to Ensure the Survival of the Eel?

The longfin eel (tuna) is of great national and international importance. New Zealand is  the only home to this mysterious and biologically unique species, but we are now facing its possible extinction due to short sighted governance, exploitation for commercial reasons, and  negative human environmental impacts.

The further decline of this species could have unknown wider food chain impacts. Because of its ecological role as a top predator , its removal could result in changes in the structure of  fish communities and wetland food webs1. “They are also important in preserving natural predator-prey inter-relationships and supporting aquatic biodiversity” 2.

Also, as Joy and McEwan point out, from a purely economic point of view, it doesn’t make financial sense to fish the Longfin Eel:

In 2006, NZ export earnings from the eel fishery (shortfin and longfin) were $6,133,352. Longfin comprised approximately 25% of the commercial eel catch in 2006. Thus, earnings from export of longfin eels constitute approximately 25% of $6,133,352 -i.e. $1,533,338. This equates to 0.0009% of GDP (NZ$155.672 billion for that year). In recent years the Ministry of Fisheries has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on managing and researching this problematic fishery – effort not in keeping with the low value of the fishery itself.3

What Measures Can We Take to Curb the Decline and Protect the Species?

  • Stop the commercial take of longfin eels – support the moratorium.
  • Keep cattle out of wetlands and waterways: they can trample banks, put excrement into the water, and eat the reeds which support the insect species that eels feed on.4
  • Let habitats regenerate: let land return to wetlands.5
  • Opening floodgates at strategic times of the year: helps ensure that migration and breeding cycles of native fish which eels feed on are not interrupted.
  • Controlling noxious weeds can help eel populations.6
  • Remove dams and barriers, or at the very least stop the development of any new projects.
  • Stop polluting activities- better management of effects of human activities on waterways.
  • Let them go: especially the large female longfins. If we keep removing the scarce females out of the eel life cycle we will put at risk the survival of the whole species.7
  • Befriend the eels, and learn from them: you’ll find they are intelligent, interesting and gentle animals- and well worth protecting.

  1. Martin Rutledge- evidence against WCO change, para 20.
  2. Graynoth, E. 2006. The long and the Short of It. Looking After the Needs of Native Eels. Details. Vol.14 No.2 – June 2006 . NIWA
  3. Joy, Mike and McEwan, A. 2009. New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society Newsletter, Number 48, August. ISSN 1178-6906 (online), p. 19.
  4. Royal, Caleb. Safety Talk Magazine.
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid.
  7. Potangaroa

Extended Reference List