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Longfin eels(manaaki tuna) will become extinct unless commercial fishing is halted – report claims…

English: New Zealand Longfin eel (Anguilla die...

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Longfin eels (manaaki tuna) will be driven to extinction if a halt is not put on their commercial fishing, says a report that has divided environmentalists and industry members.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright has called for a moratorium on the commercial harvesting of New Zealand’s longfin eel and for the Department of Conservation to step up its protection.

Massey University water ecologist Mike Joy said the report’s findings “totally vindicate” what campaigners for the eel had been saying.

“It’s been so frustrating dealing with the Ministry for Primary Industries so it’s nice to have some independent support.”

Dr Wright says the need for action is urgent.

“I am confident that the weight of evidence shows we need to act urgently to save this species.

“The longfin eel can live to more than 100 years old and breeds once at the very end of its life, travelling thousands of kilometres into the Pacific to do so. This long slow life cycle makes it very vulnerable.

“It is critical that we stop fishing longfin eels. It is not just fishing that is a problem, but stopping it is the only action that has immediate potential to reverse the decline of this extraordinary creature.”

Spokesman for the commercial eel fishing industry Bill Chisholm said the report appeared to ignore that eel stocks were recovering. “The best available scientific data clearly demonstrates that longfin eels have been increasing over the last decade. The Parliamentary Commissioner’s report is therefore 10 years out of date.”

Levin Eel Trading Company owner Mark Kuijten could not be contacted yesterday but told the Manawatu Standard last month that a moratorium would make it difficult for his business to survive.

“There are so many longfin in the waters around here it is not even funny,” he said.

“Since the quota system was introduced in 2004, things have improved.

“If my fishermen weren’t throwing them back because there’s so many, I’d be the first to say we have to do something.”

Dr Joy said he disagreed with the view that the eel, known to Maori as tuna, were in abundance and stocks were healthy.

The Department of Conservation has classed the eel as being in decline or threatened.

Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy said it was an important issue. “I welcome this report and it will be carefully studied by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation before we make any decisions.”

There are 75 commercial eel fishers in New Zealand, and three processing plants. Export earnings are around $10 million a year.

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