Celebrating World Fish Migration Day

Department of Conservation —  14/06/2016

By Sjaan Bowie, Freshwater Technical Advisor.

World Fish Migration Day is a global event that brings attention to migratory fish and their need for open river systems.

The day aims to highlight the need to safeguard free-flowing rivers and to restore connections in waterways for migratory fish. The second World Fish Migration Day was celebrated recently on 22 May 2016.

Sjaan Bowie looking at the adult inanga (whitebait) on display. Photo: Nicola Toki.

Looking at the adult inanga (whitebait) on display

Celebrations and events started in New Zealand, and followed the sun as 22 May dawned around the planet. There were over 450 events in 61 countries, varying from public education events, river tours, aquarium displays, dam removals to playing a human board game called ‘the migratory fish’.

New Zealand waterways are home to around 40 native freshwater fish and several sports fish species. Many of these fish species need to move up and down within our waterways, and migrate between freshwater and marine habitats to complete their lifecycles.

New Zealand waterways are home to around 40 native freshwater fish.

New Zealand waterways are home to around 40 native freshwater fish

Structures such as culverts, weirs, fords, dams, tide and flood gates, are commonly found today in streams and rivers throughout New Zealand. If they are badly designed, not installed correctly, or change over time they can obstruct fish migrations to upstream and downstream habitats. So these structures can threaten our freshwater fish, and safeguarding open pathways in our waterways is one key action we can all be involved in to ensure freshwater fish are able to complete their lifecycles.

In New Zealand four official events took place to promote World Fish Migration Day. Richmond, Nelson had the privilege of officially opening the 2016 global event and Christchurch, Hamilton and Gisborne hosted local celebrations. Opportunities to promote the cause were also picked up in other locations such as the Hawke’s Bay.

Patrick Lees (NZ Fish Passage Advisory Group member) showing the children some of the ways to find out what fish are in our waterways. Photo: Sjaan Bowie.

Finding out what fish are in our waterways

At all of the events, participants got the chance to interact and learn about the importance of open rivers and pathways for fish. They also got the opportunity to see some of the special freshwater fish that live in New Zealand waterways. Among the handouts provided to attendees was the new ‘awesome eels’ children’s activity sheet that was produced in partnership with the New Zealand Fish Passage Advisory Group and Riverscapes Freshwater Ecology.

The Christchurch event was held at Ōpāwa School and involved a number of freshwater specialists, representing 13 different organisations and groups, teaming up to create a fun-filled and educational interactive event. More than 500 children from preschools, schools and the public visited stations featuring our amazing native freshwater fish, sports fish, fish passage management and the local whitebait restoration project Whaka Inanka.

It was great being able to combine efforts and create displays that not only allowed children to see some of our cool freshwater fish like eels, bullies and trout up close, but also show them key ways of protecting their fish pathways. For example, at the fish passage station, children were able to closely watch inanga, one of our weaker swimmers, swimming up a makeshift fish pass and witness how a simple thing like putting rocks at the bottom of the fish pass can reduce water speed and allow them to move upstream more easily.

Children checking out some of the giant bullies on display at the native fish station. Photo: Sjaan Bowie.

Children checking out some of the giant bullies on display at the native fish station

Children also got to see whitebait eggs up close, watch sports fish trying to negotiate fish passes, see ways we can find out what fish are in our streams, and could take home freshwater stickers, colouring sheets, books and posters that were being handed out.

“It was a very busy day,” says Alan (Community Ranger, Department of Conservation). “We had hundreds of children attending and this included visits from 10 local preschools and schools…The day ran smoothly and it was great to see how much the children enjoyed the event.”

We will definitely have to get together again in the future and run a similar day. It was an amazing opportunity to promote freshwater fish and waterways.

Watch the video from World Fish Migration Day in Christchurch: