Endangered Eels find refuge in hunter-created wetlands

  • 18/08/2020
  • Richie Cosgrove

Endangered Eels find refuge in hunter-created wetlands

Southland Fish and Game research has revealed just how important hunter-created wetlands are for our native fish species.

The release of their results is timely given it is Conservation Week and many New Zealander’s may not realise that hunters and anglers are some of the nations most committed conservationists. 

In Southland, duck hunting is a very important part of the local culture and hunters, many of whom are farmers, put a huge amount of effort into creating waterfowl hunting habitat and in the process, habitat for many native birds and fish that share that habitat.  

Last summer, Southland Fish and Game conducted eel surveys in 46 waterfowl hunting ponds (duck ponds) located across the region. 

The aim of the study was to estimate the number and biomass (kg) of eels supported by Southland duck ponds and highlight the value of hunter-created duck ponds as habitat for the native shortfin eel and endangered and endemic longfin eel. 

The endemic longfin eel is struggling nationally because of habitat loss and overexploitation. 

The study showed that hunter-created wetlands are ideal habitat for our native eels. 

Some ponds supported over 100 eels and on average, each duck pond supported 16 shortfin eel weighing 10 kilograms and 10 longfin eel weighing over nine kilograms. 

Southland Fish and Game estimates that there are around 7600 duck ponds in Southland, and when you extrapolate the numbers, Southland duck ponds support upwards of 120,000 shortfin eel and 80,000 longfin eel collectively weighing over 150,000kg.  

When doing the eel surveys, Southland Fish and Game Field officer Cohen Stewart says “it was incredible to see how many eels call Southland duck ponds home”


Fish & Game Officer Erin Garrick counts eels after an overnight set in a Tokanui wetland.

“As we lifted our nets in some ponds, they were literally teaming with eels” 

“The results of our work clearly highlight that hunters really are conservationists, not just of waterfowl, but our native fish as well.” 

“If it were not for these hunter-created wetlands, there would be far less habitat available for our native eels”.   

Game bird hunters pay $4 of their hunting licence specifically to the Game Bird Habitat Trust (GBHT) which undertakes wetland restoration projects across the country. 

Wetland conservation work by Fish & Game and the GBHT nationwide in places like Takitakitoa (near Mosgiel) and Para wetland (near Blenheim), has restored hectares of wetland that had been lost as habitat. 

Duck hunting is incredibly popular across New Zealand so the wetland conservation work by Fish & Game nationwide will also be providing healthy habitat not only for New Zealand’s waterfowl, but native eels too. 

You can watch video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk_sgq28Z14

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