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'We have very robust science' - MPI defends inaction criticism on dwindling longfin eel populations

The Ministry for Primary Industries says there’s more than commercial fishing to consider in response to criticism it’s not placed a moratorium to protect dwindling longfin eel populations.

MPI’s inshore fisheries manager Steve Halley told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning habitat degradation, the draining of wetlands and barriers such as dams that stop eels from freely moving in rivers, are contributing factors.

"What we want to do is to really have a careful look at what impact all of these factors have," he said.

"We have a very robust science process that’s recently been internationally peer-reviewed that makes sure that the amount of harvest that we take from the eel fishery is sustainable."

Mr Halley said catch limits for longfin eels were already reduced by about 70 per cent since the early 2000s and only a quarter of their habitats are commercially fished.

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He says commercial fishing is “the final nail in the coffin” for the dwindling longfin eel population facing habitat losses. Source: Breakfast

Victoria University of Wellington’s senior researcher Dr Mike Joy told Breakfast on Wednesday commercial fishing provided "the final nail in the coffin" on top of other factors affecting the eels.

"End commercial fishing - there is no justification that I can think of," he said.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment had also been asking for a moratorium since 2013.

A Northland hapu-led survey also found the eels were almost absent from commercial fishing sites.

Stuff reported a 68-tonne longfin eel haul in 2018 and said, in the past few years, reported catches had been around half of the total allowed.

New Zealand’s export eel industry generates $700,000 yearly, with the largest market being the US where eel populations have halved for several reasons that include over-fishing and habitat loss.

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MPI’s Steve Halley says longfin eel catch limits have already been reduced by 70 per cent since the early 2000s. Source: Breakfast