A man has died less than three weeks after being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year' honours.

William John (Bill) Kerrison died suddenly yesterday . The ceremony for his award had not yet been held.

A social media post by the whānau said Kerrison died doing what he loved.

He will lay at Waiōhau Marae until a service tomorrow.

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Known as the "Mr Tuna" or "Tuna Man", the 81-year-old dedicated 35 years to help tuna (eels) thrive while educating those who eat them too.

He collected tuna blocked by dams in the Rangitaiki River and moved them so their natural migration cycle could continue.

Kerrison's teachings stemmed from those of his grandmother, although his love for the "beautiful creatures" came after his first encounter at 11 years old, he told NZME last year.

Less than three weeks ago, Kerrison was honoured by becoming a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to river and wildlife conservation.

For more than 35 years, Kerrison collected tuna blocked by dams in the Rangitaiki River and moved them so their natural migration cycle could continue.

William Kerrison will be lying at Waiōhau Marae until a service on Sunday. Photo / File
William Kerrison will be lying at Waiōhau Marae until a service on Sunday. Photo / File

He has also been active in education and advisory roles, raising the profile of the longfin eel, a special endemic taonga of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Known as the "Tuna Man", the 81-year-old had collected elvers, or baby eels, from the base of the Matahina dam in spring as they migrated up the Rangitaiki River.

He transferred them beyond two dams so they could continue their migration upriver and into side streams.

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Bill Kerrison moving thousands of baby eels from below the Matahina dam. Photo / File
Bill Kerrison moving thousands of baby eels from below the Matahina dam. Photo / File

It is estimated he has helped to relocate more than 30 million tuna.

The whānau can be contacted at: Kerrison whanau C/- PO Box 2070 Whakatāne.

There will be a service at Waiōhau Marae at 11am.