The New Zealand eeling industry is unhappy about accusations that tame longfin eels were harvested for catfood from a creek at the Takaka Fonterra factory.
In response to an article published in the Nelson Mail last month, spokesman for commercial eel fishers Bill Chisholm said the South Island Eel Industry Association, which represents all commercial eel fishermen, advocates "sustainable eel fisheries and habitats in the South Island".
"We have investigated the incident and have been informed by the fisherman that he did seek permission from the landowner before entering Watercress Creek. He was asked to sign a visitors book, and then allowed to proceed. There was no mention of "tame" eels or areas which should not be fished," said Mr Chisholm.
He said commercial eel fishermen would always respect the wishes of landowners who allowed access to their property, but they first needed to know about "tame eels" or any other areas that should not be fished.
Mr Chisholm said eels were not "harvested for cat food". He said eels fetched "premium market prices" and that there was "no way" pet food manufactures could afford to use anything other than eel waste product, such as heads and intestines, as pet food. Even the waste products fetched a premium price.
He said the recent Nelson Mail article threatened the "strong bonds" between commercial eel fishermen and farmers "which have been formed over many years".
"Eel fishermen are on-the-ground experts on eel habitat, and can advise farmers on measures to improve eel habitats in waterways."
In response to Takaka Fonterra staff's concern that their large female longfin pet eel "Harry" was taken by the commercial eeler, Mr Chisholm said there was "no way" a fisherman would taken an eel over 4kg because they were not marketable and were seen as breeding stock. "What happened to Harry or Harriet, I don't know. Currently all female longfin eels over 4kg are being thrown back into the water and recorded on a data base of breeding stock," he said.
He said if people had adopted pet eels, they should contact the New Zealand eeling industry "and we'll put you in touch with the local eeler".
Fonterra has told the eelers it does not want Watercress Creek to be fished for eels again. The eelers have agreed to avoid the creek.
Last year, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright advised that commercial fishing of longfin eels should be put on hold.
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