A new documentary to screen on Maori Television reveals the extraordinary life-cycle of the longfin eel (tuna), its history among Maori tribes and the hard-work of those who are helping the threatened species survive.

SAVING TUNA – premiering Saturday, October 27 at 8.30pm – is a timely reminder of the importance of keeping New Zealand’s waterways clean.

Co-producer Gary Scott, from the Wellington-based Gibson Group, says the eel is an “awesome fish”.

“The first time you learn the story of the eel, you get hooked, which is what inspired us to start the production.”

Eels live as long as humans and can grow to an enormous size. But they only breed once, in a mysterious location in the Pacific, and then they die.

Scott says the journey the young eels make, from the ocean near Tonga to the headwaters of New Zealand’s rivers, is an extraordinary feat of endurance and navigation.

Eels were also an important food source for most iwi, who dried and preserved them in large quantities during the annual tunaheke (migration).

But their survival is now threatened with the longfin population decreasing significantly after overfishing in the 1970s, pollution of waterways, draining of swamps and damming of rivers.

SAVING TUNA looks closely at how the eel is being affected as well as how iwi – from Lake Ellesmere in Canterbury to the ‘tuna town’ of Moerewa in Northland – are working to regenerate local stocks, says Scott.

“There are some real heroes out there doing the hard yards to save the eel.”

Bill Kerrison, for example, is continuing a 30-year-old catch and release programme to rebuild eel stocks in the Rangitaiki River from Murupara to Whakatane.

Ngati Awa tikanga expert Pouroto Ngaropo talks about the reverence tribes have for the eel as tipua and mokai (ancestors and pets), while John Hohapata-Oke is establishing the National Eel Association.

The hour-long documentary also highlights a new computer game about the life-cycle of the longfin, designed by Ian Ruru from in Gisborne.

SAVING TUNA was produced by the Gibson Group with the help of co-producer Fiona Apanui-Kupenga. It was directed by Wellington director Emily McDowell.

Tune in to find out more about the longfin eel in SAVING TUNA, screening Saturday October 27 at 8.30pm on Maori Television.


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