Council to fork out $35k to shift eels?

PIERS FULLER
Last updated 11:47 13/02/2013
Giant eel
WAIRARAPA NEWS
SLIPPERY SUBJECT: Eel expert Matt Paku holds up a giant eel.
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Masterton District Council could be willing to spend more than $35,000 to relocate up to 85,000 eels from the soon-to-be-decommissioned sewage ponds later in the year.

A question mark has been hanging over the fate of the eels since it was estimated that there could be about 3700 eels per hectare in the oxidation ponds.

There is thought to be a mix of short-finned and longfin native eels (tuna) living in the ponds. The longfin eels are an endangered species.

The council has several strategies to assist the eels' departure.

It plans to install "eel ladders" to help the mature eels leave the ponds.

The eels may also make their way overland to the Ruamahanga River.

The proposal also outlines installing a transfer system.

This would cost about $10,000. If these steps do not work, the plan allows for a "fall-back position" of trapping and transferring the eels from the existing ponds to the new ponds at an estimated cost of $15,000.

If the new ponds prove unsuitable, the eels could be relocated to other locations around Wairarapa at an "estimated rough order cost of $35,000".

Special projects engineer Ian Steer says it is too early to know whether the eels are going to take to the new ponds or if they will have to be moved manually.

"The bottom line is the food source is going to be depleted in the old ponds, and if we can encourage them to the new they we will be doing it with this pipeline or we could potentially get involved in a trap and transfer process," he says.

The council is planning to apply to the Ministry for the Environment for funding from the Fresh Start for Fresh Water Fund.

The discussions so far that council staff have had with representatives of Ngati Kahungunu and Rangitane have focused on improving the ability of mature eels to leave the ponds to breed; improving the ability of elver (baby eels) to enter the ponds; and transferring the eels from the existing ponds to the new ponds.

Eel experts Matt Paku and Paul Horton have given their time to consult with council staff to come up with to solutions to the various challenges the eels will face.

"They have been very useful in the process, and so have Dane Rimene and Ra Smith," Mr Steer says.

Matt Paku says the eels he has seen in the wastewater ponds are in remarkable condition.

The new ponds are on schedule for completion in April and will begin receiving Masterton's wastewater after they have been given the all- clear.

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The old ponds will be left to settle for about five months and then will be drained.

This is when the eel situation will come to a head - around September and October this year.

This may be the first time in New Zealand that a council has taken such steps to preserve the eel population in old wastewater ponds.

Masterton District Council will vote on whether to follow the recommendations in the report at a meeting later in the month.

- Wairarapa News

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