Te Arawa Catfish Killas are back at it, cleaning up lakes and engaging locals of all ages.

With things slowly returning to normal post-lockdown, Rotorua schools are keen to get back to the lakes to help eradicate catfish from the water.

"Every move you make, a lot of people make in this programme is environmentally-focused," said William Anaru, co-ordinator of Catfish Killas.

"We know, especially from a Māori world view, you're permanently connected to your environment, so if it starts to go bad you'll start to go bad too.

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"We try to keep the wairua and the mauri strong as much as possible, that's probably the words we'd use."

This week, two catfish-catching sites have re-opened in Ngongotaha and Ōhinemutu, plus a brand new site in Okere. The goal is to provide even more locations for schools to get involved.

"The amount of support and communication we've had with most of the schools in Rotorua is phenomenal, really," said Anaru.

"We have 21 schools around Rotorua on board at the moment, and occasionally a school from the coast, they come over and check it out.

"But we've got a goal of getting all the schools in Rotorua involved in this programme, not all of them do netting in this lake [Lake Rotoiti], but some do surveillance in the other lakes as well.

"It's looking good for the environment in years to come."

Grant Wallace retired to Rotorua from Auckland and says it's his duty to help protect the lake in front of his property.

"When you live here, you become very much one with the environment," said Wallace.

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"It's a wonderful experience, being an urban man most of my life. I come down here and realise this huge other dimension to life. So when you learn about something going on in your lake that you don't like, I was motivated to do something.

"We teamed up with William and Te Arawa, I don't go out and catch them - I net them, because Te Arawa Trust provided us with the nets, we're catching lots of them from the jetties in this bay."

"Obviously [we've] got William and volunteers doing an awesome job out in Te Weta Bay, we've also got a contractor out at the regional council and he's netting in the wider area," said Lucas MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

"The overall goal at the moment is to suppress the overall population in Rotoiti and Rotorua, but if they get into any of the other lakes that aren't connected we'll have a full attempt at eradication.

"But at the moment, with the tools we have we're looking to suppress the numbers."

And it's working. Catfish numbers in the lakes are dropping by up to 30,000 every year. But it takes plenty of hard work and commitment. The catfish release 6000 eggs each spawning cycle.

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"Not a lot of people have done much netting through the winter," said Anaru. "It's still data that's really important to the programme, and it keeps the kids involved throughout the winter, in a topic that's pretty important to our lakes.

"It also helps us monitor the other species in the lakes, we've got cockabullies and koura in this lake.

"I don't really want to continue catfishing if you know what I mean," he said. "If we get to a stage where we're not doing it anymore that's fantastic, that's the ultimate goal for me."

Te Arawa Catfish Killas picked up a number of awards for its environmental work, most recently the Te Puni Kōkiri Award for Bicultural Leadership.

And with such a dedicated team of volunteers driving the project, the lakes now stand a fighting chance of staying clean and catfish free.

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