Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


The Living Water partnership is looking at juvenile eels in Northland.

Date:  22 March 2017

Surveying eels in the Hikurangi catchment.
Surveying eels in the Hikurangi catchment
Image: Abi Monteith | DOC

Five Ngāpuhi hapū and NIWA are working together to find out more about juvenile freshwater eels or tuna in streams connecting to the Wairua River in the Hikurangi catchment in Northland.

Hikurangi is one of five catchments in significant dairying regions where Living Water - a partnership between Fonterra and the Department of Conservation (DOC) - is working with dairy farmers, iwi, conservation groups, councils, schools and other agencies to improve the health of the catchment.

A feature of the Hikurangi catchment is Northpower’s hydro station generating power on the Wairua River. 

For six years local hapū, Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori, have been working with Northpower, NIWA, Ministry for Primary Industries, DOC and other agencies to move juvenile eels upstream past the Omiru Falls at the Wairua Hydro Station site.

Living Water is now supporting a research project in which Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori and NIWA are looking at how the juvenile eels, moved past the Omiru Falls are surviving. Knowledge gained from the project will help Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori and supporting agencies in their work to increase the eel or tuna population in the Hikurangi catchment.

“There’s very little research being done in New Zealand to learn what makes stream habitats suitable for elvers or juvenile eels,” says NIWA scientist Dr Erica Williams, who’s leading the research project.

“The Wairua River area is like a living laboratory for elver research. So this project is going to be really useful. The more we know about elvers the more effective we can be in helping eels or tuna to thrive, not just in this river, but others around New Zealand as well.”

“Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori have long been concerned about the falling tuna population in our rohe,” says Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Wai Māori member Allan Halliday. “This is the result of changes to the landscape like the hydro power station on the Wairua River.” 

“We’re pleased this issue is being recognised and that we’re working with agencies like NIWA, DOC and Fonterra, through their Living Water partnership, to support our tuna.”

“This project with NIWA combines Mātauranga Māori or Maori knowledge and modern day science. We’re blending our two cultures and working together so we can overcome the many obstacles facing tuna on a daily basis,” says Allan Halliday.

The two-week project involves catching elvers or juvenile eels in streams connected to the Wairua River to asess their health and numbers. The elver will be caught, in a way that causes them no harm, and then promptly returmed to the stream.

This elver survey is part of a new research programme called Cultural Keystone Species, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment(MBIE) and supported by Living Water.

“This project is a great example of the collaborative conservation work we’re supporting in all five Living Water catchments,” says Living Water North Island Programme Lead Tim Brandenburg.

“It sums up what Living Water is all about. Hau Kainga, the local people, working with NIWA scientists so we can all help a native species thrive in a Living Water catchment,” says Tim Brandenburg.


About the Fonterra DOC Living Water partnership

Living Water is a 10-year partnership between Fonterra and the Department of Conservation (DOC) who have a shared vision that a sustainable dairy industry is part of healthy, functioning ecosystems that together enrich the lives of all New Zealanders.

Living Water is focused on increasing ecosystem resilience by reconnecting natural habitats on and off farm and increasing the abundance and variety of native wildlife. This is because strong healthy ecosystems underpin sustainable, profitable dairy farming.

At the same time, Living Water is working hand-in-hand with Fonterra farmers, the wider dairy industry and the science sector to develop sustainable dairying systems and practices. These systems and practices will reduce demands on the natural environment while maintaining farm profitability.

At the local level, Living Water is working alongside dairy farmers, iwi, conservation groups, schools, local government and other agencies to demonstrate sustainable dairying in healthy freshwater ecosystems in five key dairying regions.

The Living Water catchments are:

  • Kaipara Harbour (Northland) - focusing on the Hikurangi catchment north of Whangarei
  • Firth of Thames / Tīkapa Moana (Hauraki Gulf) - focusing on the Pūkorokoro / Miranda catchment 
  • Waikato peat lakes - focusing on lakes Areare,Ruatuna and Rotomānuka
  • Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere (Canterbury) - focusing on the Ararira/LII catchment
  • Awarua -Waituna (Southland) - focusing on the Waituna catchment   

About Fonterra

Fonterra is a global leader in dairy nutrition – the preferred supplier of dairy ingredients to many of the world’s leading food companies. It is also a market leader with its own consumer dairy brands in New Zealand and Australia, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Fonterra is a farmer-owned  co-operative and the largest exporter of milk in the world. It is one of the world’s largest investors in dairy research and innovation drawing on generations of dairy expertise to produce more than two million tonnes of dairy ingredients, value added dairy ingredients, specialty ingredients and consumer products for 140 markets.

Back to top