The “perilously low” numbers of the longfin eel [tuna kuwharuwharu] may have a chance to rebuild, thanks to an urgent review of fishery management prompted by a Featherston environmentalist.
After he learned of the eel population’s decline, David Famularo submitted a petition to parliament, arguing that the species should be classified as an “absolutely protected” species under the Wildlife Act 1953.
Famularo said that due to the 100-year lifespan of the eel and its life cycle, the species’ stability is more easily compromised by environmental influences.
“The longfin eel is unlike most other species. It has a life cycle involving two huge migrations, lives up to 100 years, and it only procreates once at the end of its life,” Famularo said.
“This means there have to be huge numbers of longfin eels for the species to regenerate itself every year.”
Currently, all freshwater fish, including eels, are managed under the Conservation Act and the Fisheries Act, something Famularo didn’t believe suitably protected the “culturally significant taonga”.
To ensure the eel can thrive in the future, Famularo said different measures need to be taken to protect the species from population collapse.
“It’s not like birds where you get your last 500 and put them in a cage together, raising them up again,” Famularo said.
“If the mass of eel numbers falls below a certain point, they’ll collapse.”
In response to the petition, the Department of Conservation said the eels are an important customary and recreational fishing resource and “absolute protection” would preclude species catch.
In 2018, Fisheries New Zealand reduced the total allowable catch of longfin eels by 16 per cent and the total commercial catch by 34 per cent.
The Ministry for Primary Industries is currently responsible for the fishery and said that the previous expert advice had indicated that the fishing controls were sufficient.
“The ministry believes its research shows New Zealand longfin eel stocks are stable.”
Famularo’s petition – which received 982 signatures – was presented to Parliament’s Environment Committee by Green Party MP Eugenie Sage and recommended for urgent review.
Famularo said he is pleased with this progress.
“I feel like it’s good what’s happened so far, and one can but hope for the best – it’s another step in raising awareness of the situation.”
Even though it was a national petition, Famularo said he wants to remain focused on local environmental causes.
“My focus is the environment, but really just as an individual with an affinity for the longfin eel because it’s a really special and remarkable creature,” Famularo said.
“I think it’s always good to be grounded in your locality.”