Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Many more native fish at risk, say experts

An adult giant kokopu, the largest of New Zealand's five native whitebait species. Photo / APN
An adult giant kokopu, the largest of New Zealand's five native whitebait species. Photo / APN

Even more species of native freshwater fish are considered threatened following a review.

The reclassification, by an expert panel appointed by the Department of Conservation, moved 14 of a total 54 surveyed native species, or taxa, to a higher threat category than the last review five years ago.

The findings, published this week, have prompted an urgent call from an MP to better protect our fresh waterways.

Six species were moved because of "observed declines in abundance and distribution", five were moved from being classified as "not threatened" to either "threatened" or "at risk", while eight were reclassified because of improved knowledge.

Now considered "threatened" or "nationally vulnerable" were the lamprey, the shortjaw kokopu, the alpine galaxias, found in Southland, the Taieri flathead galaxias, Gollum galaxias and the northern flathead galaxias, found in Marlborough, Nelson and the West Coast.

Reclassified as "at risk - declining" were the dwarf inanga, found in the North Kaipara Head dune lakes, the southern flathead galaxias, found in Southland and Otago, the Canterbury galaxias and the black mudfish.

Thirty-nine per cent of native species were listed as "threatened", with several species from Canterbury and Otago classified in the highest threat category - "nationally critical".

They are the lowland longjaw galaxias, the Canterbury mudfish, the Clutha flathead galaxias and the Teviot flathead galaxias.

While there was no change to the status of longfin eel, which are considered at risk, the panel that produced the report was concerned about pressures on the population.

The changes in threat status and decline in fish species were put down to reasons including habitat loss, pressure from introduced fish, poor water quality and barriers to migratory fish.

However, DoC said there would be no change to legislation.

"We will continue to work with partners, including local councils and the community to look at protecting habitat, improving water quality and fishing passage where possible," DoC freshwater technical adviser Jane Goodman said.

DoC had a freshwater fish team based in Otago that had been learning more about our most threatened freshwater fish. The department had also undertaken a review of the three freshwater fish recovery plans and groups to assess where there had been improvements, gaps and what more could be done.

But Eugenie Sage, the Green Party's spokesperson on freshwater, believed a big change was needed if New Zealand wanted to protect its native freshwater fish.

Ms Sage argued that increases in agricultural intensification lead to habitat loss, less riparian protection, and heavier nutrient loads that affected fish and aquatic vertebrates more than it did humans.

She singled out the proposed $275 million Ruataniwha Dam project in Hawkes Bay's Tukituki River catchment, where a draft submission by DoC showed eight out of 18 native freshwater fish found there were considered either at risk or declining.

In danger

Threatened
Lamprey, shortjaw kokopu, alpine galaxias

At risk
Dwarf inanga, southern flathead galaxias, black mudfish.

- NZ Herald

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