New heights for native fish

11 December 2012

Native fish could soon be living the high life at the top of the Turitea Dams as part of a five-month trap and transfer trial designed to boost native fish populations.

The trial is a joint initiative between Horizons Regional Council and Palmerston North City Council with support from local iwi and assistance from NIWA. It involves trapping fish in a specially designed holding tank at the base of the dam before manually transferring them to spawning sites in the Turitea headwaters.

Horizons environmental scientist Logan Brown says “at the moment the dams provide a barrier to native fish migration. The highest dam is 30 metres. That’s a steep climb by anyone’s standards and it prevents native fish from getting to the top.

“The Turitea dams are vital as they provide drinking water for Palmerston North and we think we may have found a way to give our fish a helping hand without impacting upon the structure,” he says.

The trap was installed at the start of November and the  trial will run through until the end of March 2013.

Designed by NIWA scientist Jacques Boubee, the trap consists of a 150 litre holding tank and access ramp positioned on a simple wooden platform just out of the flood zone at the base of the dams. It requires a constant supply of raw water to operate and is expected to attract short fin and long fin eels, kokapu and koaro among other native fish.

Palmerston North City Council water asset engineer Dora Luo says she is pleased to see so many groups working together on the project which is one of the conditions Palmerston North City Council complies with as a part of the Turitea surface water take consent.

The trap will be checked at least once per week throughout the five-month trial and, if successful, it is hoped the trap will become a more permanent fixture.

The initiative is part of a wider commitment by the Manawatū River Leaders’ Accord to protect areas of habitat for native fish, birds and trout and enable movement between these areas.

It ties in with work underway in other parts of the Manawatū Catchment where Horizons Regional Council has installed 10 fish ladders and members of the Accord have been working with landowners to encourage more native fish and wildlife.