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Analysing data for future generations

One of the Waikato River Authority funded projects is the Trap and Transfer Feasibility and Kaitiaki Development programme. It’s one of three river restoration research projects funded by the Authority that the Waikato-Tainui College for Research and Development is conducting.

Researcher Ihipera Sweet has combined her law degree and research skills to oversee its aim of creating safe passage to boost the eel fishery in the Waikato River.

It studies the comparative cost-benefit of implementing a trap and transfer programme for eels and educates tribal members about combining traditional fishery practices with scientific research.

Researcher Ihipera Sweet pictured with her colleagues at the Waikato Tainui Endowed College for Research and Development

The programme has received $110,000 from the Waikato River Authority and also secured support from the Waikato Regional Council.

But there are challenges. Migrating tuna (eels) still have to negotiate and survive a network of stopbanks, pump stations, floodgates and detention dams. These are government installations to protect communities from flooding. 

The Waikato Region has the largest number of pump stations. Heavy rain that triggers eel migration also prompts the pumps to operate, creating a recipe for disaster.  Almost all female eels measuring more than 60cm in length die if they travel through the stations. They also hinder the passage of eels migrating upstream.

Ihipera Sweet says they want to reduce that mortality rate.

“If they can’t migrate upstream or downstream then we are technically reducing our tuna population.”

While many marae and whaanau have their own eeling experts, complementing those skills with scientific research is the ideal.

“Implementing the research side means recording and analysing data for future generations.”