Protection plan for longfin eel proposed

New measures have been proposed to protect the iconic longfin eel after a review by international scientific experts.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy announced the proposed package of measures today, designed to improve the population of New Zealand's longfin eel, the largest freshwater eel in the world. 

The measures included a review of catch limits, consideration of separating longfin and shortfin stocks in the South Island, and the introduction of abundance target levels.

Scientific information did not support a closure of the fishery, Guy said. 

Existing controls allowed him to manage longfin eel stocks to ensure it rebuilt, while allowing people to sustainably use the resource. 

"There are a range of factors affecting eel productivity and abundance which are not solely related to commercial fishing."

The measures announced today would help ensure the longfin eel's survival for future generations, Guy said. 

An independent panel of international scientific experts concluded an abundance of longfin eel stocks in recent years could be attributed to reduced catches after eels were introduced into the Quota Management System. 

This followed a decline from the early 1990s to the late 2000s, Guy said. 

"Based on this information, advice from MPI and feedback from iwi and industry, I'm confident this package will support the rebuild and long-term sustainability of the longfin eel population." 

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright recommended the independent review in her April 2013 report on the status and management of longfin eels. 

The review panel criticised the limited set of information being used to guide management decisions, and recommended a more comprehensive approach be taken.

Wright said today reviewing commercial catch limits for the eel was crucial to the species' survival. 

"The Minister has recognised the need to set targets to achieve this and has proposed some practical measures," Wright said.

"While the longfin eel is threatened by a combination of habitat loss, fishing and hydro dams, fishing is the one thing where we can have an immediate impact."

Wright said she was encouraged by the Government's response to reports showing longfin numbers had been substantially reduced, and its commitment to rebuild the population.

"The longfin eel has lived in New Zealand for over 20 million years, and is of great cultural significance to Maori. We have a responsibility to those who come after us to ensure the population can recover and flourish."

"We must not gamble with the survival of a species that is so special. We need to take a conservative approach to looking after them," Wright said. 

Longfin eels were the top predator in New Zealand's freshwater ecosystem, and only bred once at the end of their lives after a "perilous" 5000km journey north into the Pacific.