Trust formed to return sea-run salmon to lower Clutha River/Mata-Au

  • 11/03/2024
  • Otago

Trust formed to return sea-run salmon to lower Clutha River/Mata-Au

Otago Fish & Game Council has welcomed the formation of a trust aimed at returning sea-run salmon to the lower Clutha River/Mata-Au.

The Clutha/Mata-Au Sportsfish and Habitat Trust has been created to support Contact Energy in meeting its consent conditions for the Roxburgh Dam to commission a Sports Fisheries Mitigation Programme with the objective to return 5000 adult salmon to the lower Clutha and improve sports fish habitat in the lower river and tributaries.

Otago Fish & Game chief executive Ian Hadland said the trust was formed after a long negotiation and was a positive step towards mitigating the losses caused to sports fishers because of the dams.

“This agreement with Contact Energy is a huge step forward after several years of determining options to meet the objectives of the Sports Fisheries Mitigation Programme.

“Ten of thousands of salmon used to run up the Clutha River in the 1940s and 50s and that migration, along with upstream and downstream movements of other introduced and native fish species, was interrupted by the dam projects,” Mr Hadland said.

“We’re grateful that Contact Energy have acknowledged that loss to anglers and are making good on it.”

The construction of Roxburgh Dam for hydroelectric generation was completed in 1956.

Contact and the trust will enter a funding agreement for the next 20 years.

Fish & Game and Contact Energy had been working together for nearly 20 years on sports fisheries mitigation in the lower Clutha but restoring the salmon fishery had proved challenging, Mr Hadland said.

The trust was much more specific to meeting that objective and improving coordination of existing and new enhancement projects.

The trust met inaugurally on Friday (December 15) and elected Rick Boyd as chair, along with initial trustee members Vicky May, Adrian McIntyre, Mike Barker and Neil Gillespie.

Mr Boyd, who is also an Otago Fish & Game councillor and Clutha Fisheries Trust trustee, said members were delighted and relieved the trust had finally been formed.

“We have a good spread of scientific experience, governance, big project management and local passion within the members, who will see the trust get to work quickly,” he said.

There is an opportunity to appoint additional trustees to represent iwi and the community.

The trust’s first step is to explore if a salmon hatchery and salmon releases of Clutha-derived genetic stock will create a return of sea-run adult salmon to the lower river.

“It’s expected that the best overseas research will also be considered in that process,” Mr Boyd said.

“North American wildlife agencies are constantly learning and experimenting with release strategies to reverse their declines in salmon returns so it will be prudent to look at lessons there in the first instance and see what might be applicable here on the Clutha.”

Contact Energy head of generation Boyd Brinsdon said: “The establishment of the trust is a significant step in a strengthened relationship with Fish & Game and our common goal of enhancing sports fish habitat and numbers in the lower Clutha/Mata-Au.” 

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