Teviot flathead galaxias
Image: Rod Morris ©


We need to protect access to habitats for our iconic native fish species which move within freshwater, and to and from the sea to complete their lifecycles.

NIWA logo.

DOC logo.

New Zealand has around 40 native freshwater fish, and several sports fish. Around 70% of our native fish are threatened or at risk.

Many of our iconic native fish species, such as whitebait and eels, need to move between the sea and rivers to complete their lifecycles.

They also migrate upstream and downstream between different habitats within freshwater.

If these movements are delayed or blocked completely, fish may be unable to reach critical habitats for completing their lifecycle. As a result their numbers can be reduced, or they may be lost from a stream completely.

National fish passage guidelines

April 2018: New Zealand fish passage guidelines provide the recommended practice for the design of instream infrastructure to provide for fish passage. They set the foundation for improved fish passage management in New Zealand.

New Zealand fish passage guidelines on the NIWA website. 

The guidelines were developed by NIWA and DOC in partnership with the New Zealand Fish Passage Advisory Group

Fish passage barriers

We have changed our rivers. Structures, such as tide and flood gates, road crossings, culverts, weirs, fords and dams, are commonly found in streams and rivers throughout New Zealand.

If they are not installed correctly they can obstruct fish migrations to upstream and downstream habitats. Fish can also be sucked into water intake structures unless suitably screened.

Who manages fish passage

DOC and regional councils have specific responsibilities to manage fish passage in our waterways under the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations 1983 and Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) respectively.

Culvert at Matawai
Image: DOC

Culverts and fords may not impede fish passage unless that impediment has been approved or exempted by DOC. That requirement applies to newly built structures, where approval should be sought before they are constructed, and to existing structures that do not already have an approval or which can no longer meet the requirements of the approval (eg because the river has changed).

Dams and diversion structures in any natural river, stream or water, built after 1 January 1984, may require a fish facility, excluding;

  • any net, trap, or structure erected and used solely for the purpose of taking or holding fish
  • any dam constructed on dry or swampy land or ephemeral water courses for the express purpose of watering domestic stock or providing habitat for water birds
  • any water diversion not being incorporated into or with a dam, that is solely and reasonably required for domestic needs or for the purposes of watering domestic stock and that empties, without dead ends, into any viable fish habitat
  • any dam or diversion structure subject to a water right issued under the provisions of the Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967 (prior to 1 January 1983) or any structure authorised by a Regional Water Board not requiring a water right that in no way impedes the passage of fish. This Act was the primary legislation governing the use of water resources prior to the enactment of the RMA 1991.

Under the RMA, regional councils control environmental effects relating to the construction of structures. Rules implemented in regional plans include consideration of fish passage and protection of areas of significant habitats for indigenous fauna.

To apply for a fish passage authorisation, contact the nearest of these DOC offices

Find out more information about what makes a migration barrier and how you can help.

More information

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