Sustainable management of longfin eels
8 June 2012
Longfin eels are managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries under the Quota Management System (QMS), recognised as a world-leading system for sustainable management. It provides for use while ensuring long-term sustainability.
MPI takes exception to a number of incorrect and misleading statements about longfin eels that have been put forward by some people in recent days. MPI believes that such behaviour is unhelpful to good management of this species.
The facts are as follows:
- Longfin eels are not classified either as “threatened” or “endangered” by the Department of Conservation. Classification decisions are based on a thorough and careful scientific assessment.
Longfin eels are classified by the Department of Conservation as “at risk and declining”. (Shortfin eels are classified as “not threatened”.) The purpose of the classification system is to support and prioritise conservation work.
- MPI places a high priority on sustainably managing this stock on an ongoing basis, responding to any new, credible information that arrives. Three main methods are used to gain information about the ongoing state of the stocks. Together they give a good picture of what's happening. They are:
- The number of elvers of each species arriving annually at each of the 11 monitoring sites around New Zealand is collected, providing an index of “recruitment strength” for the river systems.
- Catch per unit effort information is collected from commercial fishers by species and area. These sets of information undergo detailed analysis in a four-yearly cycle. The results from the last South Island one are just about to be presented to a technical working group, and the next North Island one will begin later this year.
- Commercial eel processors report on the type and weight of eels received and what catchment they are from.
- Eel fishing rules are actively policed by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
This is done predominantly by routine inspections at the licensed fish receiver and occasionally through inspections at the point of capture and checking of gear to ensure it complies with regulations.
Commercial fishers are required to complete catch landing returns, and processors are required to complete licensed fish receiver returns - to ensure all eels caught are counted against quota. These returns are audited by the Ministry.
The most effective place to monitor compliance of the maximum legal size limit is at the premises of the licensed fish receivers who process the eels before export. Fishery officers make inspections of these premises. Few breaches have been detected to date.
- Freshwater eels are a commercially fished species, taken under the Fisheries Act 1996 and therefore available for commercial use. There are no restrictions on the commercial use of freshwater eels in New Zealand. However, they are a premium, high-value species. So it would be uneconomic for whole eels to be used as a key ingredient for uses such as petfood for example. MPI understands that eel offal (e.g. skins, heads, bones) following processing may be used in petfood. Ultimately, that is a commercial decision for industry participants.
The taking or production of eels can be done under the Fisheries Act or associated regulations and where this has occurred, the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations 1983 do not apply.
Ministry for Primary Industries