Joe Potangaroa and his publication Tuna Kuwharuwharu – the longfin eel. PHOTO/FILE

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

Bigger isn’t always better, and in the case of the native long fin eel species its best to put big eels back says a environmental advocate.

Masterton man Joe Potangaroa is passionate about Wairarapa eels and hopes to document population hot spots as part of the upcoming WAI art exhibition raising awareness about issues facing the region’s waterways and aquatic life.

Eels have always been a part of his life, he said.

“When I was little, one of my earliest memories is going out eeling with my stepfather.”

But it wasn’t until taking part on a school trip to Pukaha Mt Bruce with his daughter in the early 2000s that he really got interested in eels.

Potangaroa was delighted to discover there were eels living near his old house and would often show guests the eels, much to his children’s embarrassment.

The Wairarapa Moana is home to the second largest eel fishery, with millions of eels passing through Lake Onoke each autumn on their 6000-kilometre migration to breeding grounds near Tonga.

Adult eels will only make this journey once and will die after laying their eggs, a little-known fact Potangaroa fears has led to eel population decline.

He explained if an eel was caught in freshwater, it meant that it hadn’t had the chance to breed

“We’ve got to leave the big black ones,” he said.

Potangaroa also raised concerns about how streams had deteriorated over the years.

“The waterways have changed. A lot of it’s not for the better.

“It’s about getting a better balance and looking after the streams.”

He said he’d like Masterton to be the “most caring for the environment”, as well as the most beautiful small city.

He had been working with Tony Garstang as part of WAI to document the ‘missing’ streams of the Makoura Stream – the largest of three urban creeks running through Masterton and feeding the Waipoua River.

Potangaroa was now hoping to put together a database about sites with large eel populations where residents were caring for them.

“A lot of people are interested,” he said.

A database of this kind would be useful not only for cultural purposes but would also help freshwater scientists and ecologists better understand Wairarapa stream systems.

To protect the eels, Potangaroa has asked people to get in touch with him directly on [027] 691-9005.

WAI: Manga Maha, Awa Kotahi will open at Aratoi on March 29, and will run until May 26.