The waters of New Zealand are home to a number of colourful moray eel species and conger eels, which can be dived with in places such as the Poor Knights marine reserve in Northland. Spending time with eels isn’t restricted to scuba diving though, as the land of the long white cloud is also home to the Longfin eel; a freshwater species only found in New Zealand and declining in numbers.
Longfin eels have poor eyesight but use their sense of smell to locate prey and hunt for native fish species, crayfish and even ducklings. They can live for up to 80 years, grow to a length of 2m and weigh up to 40kg. They are also long-distance swimmers and migrate from rivers and lakes to the warmer waters of the Pacific to spawn and die. The eggs hatch in those warm waters and the larvae then drift back to New Zealand to begin another generation of eels.
Habitat loss, pollution of waterways, obstruction of waterways preventing eel passage and commercial fishing of the Longfin eel have impacted upon eel numbers. The large breeding-size adults are now rare and a petition with 17,299 signatures is currently in place urging the MPI to stop commercial hunting of the Longfin eel. It can be signed here.
If you see or catch an eel, it is likely to be a Longfin if it is:
- Over 1m length
- Very dark in colour
- Living in high-country rivers of lakes
More information about telling the different between Longfin eels and New Zealand’s other freshwater eels can be found here.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly eel experience during non-dive days, you can find tame eels to feed in various locations around New Zealand. Try Anatoki Valley in Golden Bay and Pukaha Mt Bruce National Wildlife Centre in the Wairarapa.