Scientist Ian Ruru and members of Te Whanau a Kai and Te Aitanga a Mahaki are fast becoming experts on New Zealand freshwater eels in the lakes and waterways throughout the Waipaoa River catchment and on its rich history of pa settlements and battles. They have surveyed eels in Lake Repongaere, near Gisborne, looking at their size, age and growth rate, as well as checking past rainfall and river flow data to see if there were any clues to the recruitment success or failure of juvenile eels. This was all part of a research project, funded by MFish, designed to assess the present status of eel stocks within the Te Aitanga a Mahaki iwi rohe.
We were very fortunate to have the support of the Lake Repongaere owners, who saw the benefit of assessing the current state of eels in their lake, says Ian. The lake has always been an important mahinga kai for the generations who have lived around it and its commercial potential has recently been developed.
The group also undertook a mapping exercise to assess and prioritise other eel populations within the rohe. This involved integrating the historical knowledge of Maori elders and customary fishing experts with a GIS database to identify key customary fishing areas for possible future assessments. Te Aitanga a Mahaki Trust see this as a catalyst to the development of an Eel Management Plan for the entire Waipaoa River Catchment, as well as contributing to iwi and hapu research capabilities, says Ian, adding that a successful partnership between Maori elders, landowners, scientists, iwi researchers and the wider community was an unforeseen but happy outcome.
This survey was carried out on behalf of the Lake Repongaere Owners by Maumahara Consultancy Services Ltd (MCS). MCS is an independant fisheries science research provider and specialises in freshwater and environmental research. The project was completed under contract to the Ministry of Fisheries.
Maumahara Consultancy Services Ltd., also completed surveys of the Waipaoa Catchment, the Taharoa lakes and the Pouto lakes in the Kaipara.