06 December 2013

Environment Commissioner welcomes International Panel eel report

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright today welcomed the report of the International Panel on monitoring trends for freshwater eels in New Zealand.

The panel of three international experts was established following a recommendation from the Commissioner in her report on the status and management of longfin eels released in April this year.

The panel concluded that the population of longfin eels is much lower than it was -- "there is a high probability that the longfin eel population has been substantially reduced".

Longfin eels are found only in New Zealand. They are the top freshwater predator, can grow as long as two metres and live more than a century, but are far less numerous than they once were.

Like the Commissioner, the panel concluded that the indicators used by officials are far from adequate, and assessments should be broader and use all available data.

In her report, Dr Wright recommended that commercial fishing of longfin eels be stopped, at least for a time.

"Fishing is not the only pressure on this extraordinary species. But we cannot remove the hydro dams that kill the large eels trying to get out to sea to breed. Nor can we quickly reverse the decline in their habitat.

"The law requires that fisheries be managed conservatively. It would be a tragedy if the survival of this iconic New Zealand species was to be put at risk.

"The commercial value of this fishery is very small compared with the cultural and biodiversity value of these giants of the waterways."

The panel was not asked to make any recommendations on the future management of the eel fishery, but its report will be considered by the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, and he will make a decision in early 2014.

A Q+A about longfin eels and the panel's report can be found here.

The panel's report is available here.