Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro Tuna Restoration Project

Department of Conservation —  18/04/2019

Say the word ‘eel’ and you might get a range of responses, from “Yuck!”, to “Cool!”, and the surprisingly common “Are they electric?”. If we change the name, maybe we change the frame – tuna, Te Reo Māori for ‘eel’, are a taonga, a charismatic aquatic creature familiar to many across the Aotearoa.

Here we’ll focus on the longfin eel, found only in New Zealand. They are long lived – that tuna living in your local creek could be old enough to be your koro. They have a fascinating life cycle that includes epic journeys across oceans – the adults travel to near Tonga to spawn, then die there leaving their offspring to make it back to New Zealand with some help from ocean currents. They are awesome, but they are in decline.


Longfin eel are only found in New Zealand and are in decline. 📷: Philippe Gerbeaux

Threats to tuna include habitat loss, overfishing, and barriers to their migration. This story isn’t supposed to be a downer though, so let’s give you some context, and see how people are helping.

Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro (Central North Island) have long had a connection with this taonga through their tuna fishing and kai culture. Over time, this culture has eroded as the construction and continued operation of the Tongariro Power Scheme prevented recruitment of new tuna. It was difficult to notice at first, because tuna live for so long, but eventually it became clear that something was wrong. John and Lena Morgan of Ngāti Hikairo raised the issue with the Genesis Energy environmental team.

Andy Hicks Long finned eel.JPG

Baby longfinned eels. 📷: Andy Hicks

We told you this has a happy ending, and here’s where it starts. Genesis Energy, once becoming aware of the problem, were keen to be a part of the solution. Ultimately, Genesis Energy provided funding for John, Lena, their whanau and wider Hapu to restore mobility for the tuna.  The mahi involves physically moving elvers (baby eels) upstream of the barriers, and tuna-heke (migratory eels) downstream. It has also provided unique opportunities for local rangatahi and wider communities to learn about tuna.

John speaking at launch of tuna movie.jpg

John speaking at the launch of tuna movie. 📷: Krysia Nowak

A mini-documentary has been developed to celebrate seven years of collaboration and success, and now we are pleased and privileged to be able to share it with you. We hope it will inspire some new responses to the word ‘eel’, or ‘tuna.’

Thanks to support from Genesis Energy, Taupō for Tomorrow, DOC Taupō Fishery Management Team, and Ngāti Hikairo.