Commercial fish have to get to market and, eels are no exception. They are a delicate species and deteriorate rapidly once dead. This makes it essential to land them ‘alive’.
Eels larger than 4kg (2kg in Waikato) or smaller than 220g must be returned to the water alive. If the catch is from a hydro lake, it is important to return large females below the lowest turbine/dam.
Because longfins are becoming more prolific in many waterways and catching rights (ACE) for this species are rare, fishermen are actively avoiding longfin habitat. Where they are catching longfins, they often choose not to land some of their ‘legal’ catch because:
they might not have enough annual catch entitlement (ACE) for that species
because the market for that grade/species is depressed.
The processor will not accept them at that time.
It is permissible to return undamaged eels to the water alive but these fish must be reported in the catch effort landing returns at Destination X. This requirement is poorly understood and EECo are working with MPI to clarify the regulation for fishermen.
If these returned eels are not recorded it skews catch per unit effort (cpue) indices down and underestimating abundance.
Fishermen, at times, choose not to land some of their catch because they might not have enough annual catch entitlement (ACE) for that species or because the market for that grade/species is depressed.
Since 2008, it has been forbidden to land all commercially caught >4kg eels. This new regulation has been introduced to protect migrating mature females. EECo fully agree with this management measure. However, we believe that it should be mandatory to report large eels caught and returned as the recent omission of this grade from the records has artificially skewed catch per unit effort downward. We have also advocated strongly for fishers to be allowed to carry large females below the lowest barrier/dam to downstream migration thereby allowing them to find their way to the sea.
Eels can only be landed to a licensed fish receiver (LFR). Catch and landing reports by fishers and LFR’s are scrutinised and audited by the Ministry of Primary Industry to ensure the integrity of the quota management system.
Generally, catches are picked up by the LFR’s tanker, ensuring lower mortality and stronger fish entering the marketing chain.
Landing the Catch
Transporting eel catches by tanker is preferable to carrying them in the back of a ute even if covered with wet sacks or means to keep them cool and damp.
Delivery to the processor by ute is acceptable for short journeys in cooler weather but generally, catches are picked up by the LFR’s tanker, ensuring lower mortality and stronger fish entering the marketing chain.
Stronger, well-conditioned fish are destined for the more lucrative ‘live export’ market.
New Zealand eels are exported alive to: Korea, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, China, Taiwan, Canada, USA and others.