by Eugenie Sage
What native species is as endangered as Great Spotted Kiwi is being sold as cat food? Longfin eels deserve protection from being killed for upmarket cat food. Populations of longfin eels are declining and the species is at risk of extinction yet they have no legal protection in New Zealand and they can still be caught commercially. Commercial fishers can currently catch up to 82 tonnes of long finned eels annually which is how some of them end up as cat food. Long finned eels are endemic to New Zealand – only found in NZ. Longfin eels or Tuna, are a taonga species. They are an important indicator of ecosystem health as they are an apex predator. Check out the awesome short documentary Longfin by Lindsey Davidson and Melissa Salpietra.
Eels exhibit many factors which make them vulnerable to overfishing. They are relatively large, long-lived, and slow-growing, with late sexual maturation and often with a limited geographic range. What’s more Eels only breed once after an epic migration downriver and across the Pacific to near Tonga. After they spawn they die.
Despite long finned eels being at risk of extinction, they are allowed to be caught commercially. In the South Island there is no differentiation between the at risk longfin eel and the common shortfin eel. The total allowable catch for eels under the Quota Management System, encompasses both species.
Commercial fishing is not the only threat to our awesome longfin eels. Longfin eels live higher up the catchment and hydro projects mean they can’t make their epic breeding journey out to sea. Much of their habitat has been severely impacted by agriculture, wetlands have been drained, rivers channelised creating a degraded habitat that is polluted by intensive agricultural practices.
Legal protection for our unique long finned eel is long overdue. Maanaki Tuna has organised a beautiful tapestry which is travelling New Zealand schools with classes adding to it to help protect tuna.