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Councils learn from mudfish mess

The mudfish at Daleton Farm. PHOTO/FILE

ELI HILL
[email protected]

Authorities are looking to learn from earlier mishaps as they work to rehome the remaining Daleton Farm brown mudfish to a more suitable habitat that is being created.

This comes after Fish and Game NZ said it was “horrified” at what it described as a “botched” transfer of the at-risk mudfish by Carterton District Council over December and January this year.

The Times-Age reported in March that of the more than 900 mudfish rehomed to wetlands, a “significant proportion” did not survive.

On Monday a Greater Wellington Regional Council spokesperson said staff would undertake further monitoring of the translocated population in spring and would be tracking how the mudfish and their habitat are doing into the future.

“Our immediate focus is on creating additional habitat that we believe will be more suitable for brown mudfish,” they said.

“Once we are happy that this new habitat is established, we will relocate the remaining mudfish.”

The spokesperson said GWRC believed mudfish were still present in the wetland where they were relocated, but in lower numbers.

There are also mudfish in the drains next to the constructed wetlands and approximately 40 housed in two tanks in GWRC’s Masterton office.

“Unfortunately, the habitat created did not develop as we had hoped, in particular in relation to the aquatic vegetation cover that would have provided cover for the mudfish.

“High water temperatures and predation by birds, such as shags and herons, are considered to be among some of the key issues that impacted on the success of the translocation.”

GWRC will continue to work closely with Carterton District Council to create a new habitat more similar to the original area the fish were relocated from.

“We will be incorporating the learnings so far to ensure that the project has the best chance of success, in terms of maintaining and enhancing brown mudfish habitat.”

The project will now be led by Alton Perrie, an environmental scientist from GWRC who has “considerable expertise in mudfish”.

Fish and Game Wellington manager Phil Teal called for an independent inquiry by the Department of Conservation into the transfer.

“If any member of the public had caused the loss of nearly 1000 mudfish, which have been compared by fish experts [to be] as rare as great spotted kiwi, then there would be severe consequences.

“This is $160,000 of ratepayers’ money that would be much better used on meaningful conservation projects that would benefit all fish habitat.”

Teal said Fish and Game senior scientist Adam Canning had advised project co-ordinators last year that the project was not advisable, but his concerns had been dismissed.

“Sadly, his predictions were proven correct. The public should be demanding answers from the council.”

Carterton District Council’s Infrastructure, Services and Regulatory manager Dave Gittings said the transfer was a detailed process overseen by experts from Wildlands Consultants.

“There was a licence issued by the Ministry for Primary Industries and this was all done in accordance with the requirements.

“A review could be carried out by someone with a vested interest in mudfish, who might want to learn something from this. We won’t be doing a review. It’s not for the council or ratepayers.”

Gittings said staff were recreating drainage ditches slightly north of the wetlands, diverting spring water from the original drains into the new habitat, and planting sweet grass that the mudfish use for cover.

“When they’ll be rehomed all depends on how long that takes.”

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