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Helping fish go with the flow

Wairarapa landowners with rivers and streams running through their properties are encouraged to watch for freshwater fish passing through on their travels to the sea.

At least 20 species of native fish are swimming up and down the waterways of Wairarapa, which is one of the most diverse regions for freshwater fish in New Zealand, but this is difficult if there are roadblocks like culverts, fords, dams and floodgates.

Many of the fish navigating the region’s streams are migrating between freshwater rivers to the sea where they will reproduce and complete their lifecycles.

Greater Wellington Regional Council [GWRC] councillor Adrienne Staples said that the principles of public transport apply to “even the slipperiest river residents”.

“The ability to get where you need to go is even more important for our native tuna [eels] and whitebait species that make journeys to survive and reproduce,” Staples said.

“With that in mind, the survival of our native freshwater fish is a shared responsibility when we own and manage in-stream structures.”

To make it easier for fish to “traverse the land” as part of their journey, Staples said GWRC can provide landowners with free, no-obligation advice and – in most cases – fund the installation of fish passages to help fish move seamlessly through barriers.

GWRC senior biodiversity advisor Ashley Webby said people are often surprised to learn the term ‘whitebait’ includes five at-risk native species, some close to extinction.

“Whitebait is the collective term as juveniles, but as they grow into adult fish they become inanga, kōaro, banded kōkopu, giant kokopu, and shortjaw kokopu, which all have steadily declining populations,” Webby said.

“Some native fish are more affected by instream structures than others.

“For example, inanga are weak swimmers, whereas kōaro whitebait and baby eels [elvers] can easily climb wet ramps or ropes.”

Work to improve fish passages across the Wellington Region is part of the Improving Fish Passage Project, jointly funded by Greater Wellington and the Ministry for the Environment.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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