For Māori, tuna (eels) are a taonga – an important cultural treasure. Māori have over 100 names for eels describing their different colours and sizes, and they are revered as a link to the gods. Over time, special traditions and protocols were developed around the harvest of eels. Eels were a very important source of food and easily caught in almost any river or lake throughout the year.
Today, the right of Māori to catch eels for customary non-commercial purposes – like tangi and other marae events – is established through the fisheries management system administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Concern about longfin eels has become widespread among Māori, many of whom are expressing their distress at the decline in local populations of eels. In 2012, the Māori Committee of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council recommended that the council take a number of actions to protect longfin eels. These included lobbying Government to support a temporary ban on commercial eeling and seeking the support of local iwi to impose a rāhui (ban).