Mass deaths of eels found in dried up Hawke's Bay waterways are being reported, with one Waipawa resident disposing of "five wheelbarrows" full of them.
The Department of Conservation says its rangers went out to investigate the report in a Tukituki catchment area in Central Hawke's Bay and found 50 more eels dead in a nearby dried up waterway on February 24.
Te Taiwhenua o Tamatea is a Māori community organisation in Hastings.
DoC then received a second report about eels stranded and dead at Bridge Pa in part of the Ngaruroro catchment.
A mass eel rescue at Bridge Pa was conducted by pupils from Te Kura Kaupapa o Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga on February 14.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council group manager integrated catchment management Iain Maxwell said it was upsetting to hear about the dead eels.
DoC senior community ranger Chris Wootton said, "it's difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of why water levels have dropped so low and so quickly".
"People have described how it's just like the bath plug has been pulled out and all the water has gone from these stream or river systems."
Maxwell said river levels in much of the region are incredibly low and that the Ruahine Ranges only got around 10 per cent of its usual rainfall for February.
"We do know that the Waipawa River is very low right now and that river recharges the aquifer that feeds springs, such as the one affected," he said.
DoC is unsure what other waterways may be impacted and is asking the public for help.
"We want to understand the scale of the issue, so if anyone from the public sees eels stranded or dead in a drying waterway, please call our local office.
A Hawke's Bay Regional Council spokeswoman said it was continuing to monitor river flows and working closely with DoC on the issue.
HBRC has been surveying river flows and drying sections across the Ruataniwha Plains and will be visiting the affected waterways for more information.
The two types of eels are longfin and shortfin and today there are fewer eels because of the loss of wetlands and commercial fishing practice, Wootton said.
"Tuna (eels) are a taonga, or a treasured species. The loss of so many eels across the region is a big blow for both tangata whenua and native freshwater biodiversity in Te Matau a Māui Hawke's Bay.
"Tuna have importance to tangata whenua and DoC will be working with them and other agencies to understand the cause of the issue and work towards prevention."
The Napier DoC office can be contacted on 06 834 3111 or email@example.com.