On the weekend I travelled to Waiohau, an hour inland from Whakatane to speak to a couple of guys who care passionately about saving our indigenous long-finned eel (tuna).
Bill Kerrison has dedicated his life to transferring elver (baby eel) into lakes above the Matahina hydro dam so they can live their lives and grow to spawning size. Bill then helps the mature eels come back downstream, avoiding the hydro turbines, so they can head back out to sea to spawn.
Erin Hampson-Tindale is the ‘Bill’ of the Waikato and is fighting to save these incredible eels in his patch.
The long-finned tuna can live up to 100 and travel thousands of miles to a trench in Tonga to spawn. They release millions of eggs which float on the current back to NZ and up our fresh water streams to spend their lives slowly growing to spawning size. They like the cold, clear stony bottom rivers many kms up stream.
There are many problems facing the tuna. Firstly their numbers are seriously declining from decades of over-fishing. They must be able to reach the sea to spawn yet they lack safe passage downstream past the hydro dam turbines which basically mince them up as they try to pass through. The decline in population is compounded by the fact that the eels take 50+ years to reach spawning age and only spawn once before they die. It may well take decades and decades for the species to regenerate.
If we don’t do more to protect the long-finned tuna they will be lost to us forever.