Celebration of mudfish protection project highlights benefits of collaboration

The culmination of years of work, Friday 7 June 2019 marked the successful construction of a ground-breaking Canterbury mudfish (kōwaro) protection project in Haldon Pastures. The project features a Southern Hemisphere first – a solar-powered electric fish barrier, designed to prevent predation.

The range of event attendees reflected the very many different organisations and parties involved in this innovative pilot.

The event opened with a blessing on behalf of local rūnanga Te Taumutu by Mananui Ramsden, Environment Canterbury’s Pou Mātai Kō/cultural land management advisor.

Speakers then included Environment Canterbury Chief Executive Bill Bayfield, Department of Conservation (DOC) mudfish expert Anita Spencer, Selwyn Waihora Zone Committee member Simon Hay, and Environment Canterbury Councillor Lan Pham. Representatives from partner Fonterra, contractors’ PDP and Frizzell Agricultural Electronics, and the landowners were also in attendance.

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said:

“This project is audacious and provides an opportunity to increase our understanding of how we can better protect our native freshwater fish from predators. In combination with other initiatives, it allows restoration of important sites for these species and the ecosystems which support them, across Canterbury and New Zealand.”
Mananui Ramsden, ECan Pou Mātai Kō/cultural land management advisor, blessing the site.

Cooperative approach

Since its inception, this pilot project has brought together many different groups and individuals, particularly the close working relationship with DOC and funding from funding from Fonterra’s sustainable catchments programme.

With the project on private land, it was essential to have the support and backing of landowners – one of whom is John Grigg, who commented:

“It’s such an amazing environment, and we wanted to do something useful to leave the land in a better state and protect this unique species.”

Minister Sage said:

“The management of Canterbury mudfish and their habitat is complex, and requires close collaboration between Environment Canterbury and DOC. As their habitat is predominantly on private land, it is also highly dependent on the commitment of those landowners.”
Two mudfish/kōwaro.

Trish Kirkland-Smith, Fonterra’s General Manager - Group Environment, said:

“This project is a fantastic example of thinking and acting at a catchment scale, with one intervention on a specific farm supporting a broader catchment and community goal. Fonterra is delighted to have helped make it happen, as we continue our work with communities in catchments up and down the country to help rebuild the health of New Zealand’s waterways.”

Environment Canterbury’s Selwyn Waihora Zone Delivery Lead Johannes Welsch, who has been instrumental in ensuring the success of the project at every stage, commented:

“Working collaboratively in this way is a perfect example of how, by joining forces, we can make biodiversity and species protection not just a priority, but a practical reality.”

Innovation in conservation

The project is a Southern Hemisphere first, using electromagnetic barrier technology designed by US company Smith-Root.

“Throughout the design, equipment supply, and commissioning stages of the project, we collaborated with and relied upon the expertise of PDP and Frizzells,” the company said.
"The information provided by these experts, and the reliable communication and leadership by Johannes, made our job much easier, especially being 19 time zones away.”
Site of the installed electric fish barrier.

Installation of the barrier will allow the mudfish to expand into the lower reaches of the site and stop predation by trout – increasing spring-fed stream habitat for the mudfish from 880m² to 8,000m² in the Selwyn Waihora catchment.

It also allows for the study of predator exclusion and population monitoring, harnessing this innovative technology to find new solutions.

Solar panels that power the barrier; Shipping container housing the electrical equipment.

Councillor Pham emphasised the importance of projects such as this:

“Sadly, time isn’t on our side when it comes to our remaining mudfish populations, so I am really pleased to see us here today, celebrating this innovative predatory fish barrier. These special critters really do need all the help they can get, and that means having as many tools in the toolbox as possible.”

Find out more

View from Haldon Pastures to the Southern Alps.

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