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A Farmer Doing The Right Thing

This is an article written by Joseph Potangaroa who gave his permission to share it here.  I hope this farmer’s mana is contagious!

Mud, slime and cat food

Relocating landlocked eels

Here are a couple of questions that won’t cross the minds of many people. How many eels live in dams on rural farms and what can someone do if they don’t want the eels anymore but don’t want to just kill them either?

Recently a group of people transferred seventy shortfin eels from a farm dam to the Tiraumea River. The task was undertaken at the request of the farm owners and following consultation with The Department of Conservation, Ministry of Fisheries and Greater Wellington. Joseph Potangaroa, Camryn Potangaroa, Caleb Royal (Ngati Raukawa) scientist from Otaki, Joe Harwood, AJ and Kane undertook the relocation project.

The farm owners had noticed a build up of eels in a dam, eels getting stuck in water lines and the disappearance of ducklings. They had brought in a digger to remove unwanted silt out of the dam, but as the first scoop was raised from beneath the water eels slithered out of the bucket. At this point the farmers decided that even though they still wanted to reduce the eel population they would explore options other than just dumping them on banks – although  chances are most of the eels would just make their way back into the water anyway if this was done.

Caleb, Camryn and i drove to the farm late one Wednesday afternoon to set six hinaki. Caleb went about setting five nets equipped with waders, cat food for bait and an aluminium dingy. Camryn and I set the last one and then took some time to observe the surroundings.

The area was fenced off and planted with a mixture of flaxes, grasses, native and introduced trees. Ripples on the water and a couple of tails momentarily coming into view signified that there was life in the dam and made you think about how clever eels were to get up a hill in an inland location well away from any rivers. We had already learnt that the dam and several others supplied the farm with water which explained the importance of keeping the lines clear.

Evidently half a tonne of eels had been caught commercially from the farm thirteen years ago so we were very curious as to what might be in the nets when we returned the next morning.

Arriving back at the dam on Thursday our group had grown a bit. Joe Harwood in his role as Rangitane o Wairarapa youth worker brought along teenagers Kane and AJ to be a part of the experience and had picked up Caleb and me along the way. When we went up to the dam both the lady and gentleman owners came to check the nets.

The nets were retrieved by either sloshing around in the knee deep mud or from the dingy. The final count was seventy shortfin eels of various sizes. Once all the eels were counted and identified as shortfins they were placed in plastic drums.

After we said good bye to the farmers we drove back down the road and found a suitable place on the Tiraumea River to relocate a majority of the eels. The Tiraumea is a tributary of the Mangatainoka which is in turn a branch of the Manawatu that flows into the Tasman Sea at Foxton Beach.

A few eels were taken back to Masterton where they were cooked for the enjoyment of kaumatua. But even though some were eaten and we do not know what will happen to those that were released, their chances of breeding were enhanced by being taken out of the dam.  It also made us ask how many eels are in dams and are these acting as incubators if they are not fished.

The farmers need thanking for their fore thought. We had a great time enjoying a remote part of the Wairarapa, learning through observation, getting exercise and maintaining cultural traditions. But most importantly we felt good because we had put our money where our mouth is and hopefully did a little bit to help increase the population of local eels.


Both main species of New Zealand eels have been greatly reduced in number due to habitat loss, pollution and fishing. The endemic New Zealand longfin is endangered and the native shortfin, whilst not in the same trouble has seen a reduction in population for some time.

Joseph Potangaroa

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