Saturday, January 02, 2010


Nothing beats spending a warm, languid summer's evening down at the creek catching eels. Just remember that if you're wanting to create fond memories of the event, coat your legs in insect repellent before embarking on your expedition; acting as a mobile buffet for the local insect life may thrill them to bits, but it will sorely test your endurance. By the end of the evening, my legs resembled the ravaged neck of a horny teenager.

 Eels tend to lurk under fallen logs, large rocks or under riverbanks, coming out to hunt as daylight fades. Eels hunt by smell rather than sight, which is why we used the aerated bait bucket. Full of old, freezer-burnt venison, it went into the creek for twenty minutes before being pulled out once the eels had been tempted out of hiding - in went the fishing lines. We caught three and once killed, their bodies were salted to help ease the removal of their slimey coating (by the way, don't take any more than you actually need - I'll explain why after the slideshow). In the morning, they were scraped down, gutted, beheaded, washed, filleted and salted before being left to dry out in the wind and sun. The next day, they were hot smoked - delicious.
Here's what happened:

Created with flickr slideshow

Unfortunately, catching eel has become increasingly difficult in large parts of the country, for three reasons: overfishing by commercial eelers, the rise in the number of dams, and the general degradation of eel habitats. According to the Deparment of Conservation, the Longfin eel population, our indigenous species, is under threat. The Forest and Bird Society point a finger firmly in the direction of government and the eel fishing industry, citing "thirty years of intensive and virtually unregulated exploitation" under the aegis of the Ministry of Fisheries. A recent statement released by a coalition of high profile environmental lobbyists calling for a halt to commercial eel fishing received an endorsement from Maori party co-leader, Tariana Turia.

As for the increase in the number of dams, these simply prevent young eels from travelling upstream to their habitats to continue their growth and development. And those very habitats are in a parlous state for a whole host of reasons: pollution in the form of sewage (human and animal) and industrial effluent, as well as agrochemicals and their residue; the draining of wetlands for land development has effecively wiped out large tracts of habitat. The idea of heading down to the creek to fish for eel for the dinner table is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Many thanks to Kerry (that's him you see in most of the slideshow shots; actually, he appears quite a bit in the blog), Kaleb and Hugh for their time and expertise.


Forest & Bird "Best Fish Guide" - downloadable guide (PDF) that provides an ecological assessment for each of NZ's marine species, enabling you to make an informed choice when buying seafood (also available in wallet-sized form further down the page) - clickety

Forest & Bird petition calling on the Minister of Fisheries, Hon Phil Heatley, to place a moratorium on commercial fishing of the endangered longfin eel (scroll to bottom of page) - clickety


peasepudding said...

Hi Nigel, I have always been a bit squeamish about eel and I don't think your slide shop has helped :o) P loves eel though but you don't see it that often.

About my book, hmmm, I have been pondering on it all last year and I need to step into action as it will take a long time anyway. The real problem is having a theme, something different, something everyone would like to buy, there are so many out there. So there I sit stuck :o/ I have a friend who works for a publishing company who said she would support me but I have to get it down on paper. If I can begin it this year I will be happy. Although I suspect my new classes will take up a lot of time. Here's to a busy 2010!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Nigel,
What is truly scary is the scope of this governments plan for future hydro projects - including many catchments in places like the Tararua and Ruahine. More or less in line with the "stocktake" of mineral resources and other "assets" of nature as proposed by jowly Gerry Brownlee. This year we will see National government reveal their true intention and view of wild places, and also places that simply offer survival of native species, such as the eel and kokopu. Who could imagine being denied the simple pleasure of eeling because of our insatiable demand for more and more power.
The smoked eel looks mouth watering delicious by the way!

Nigel Olsen said...

Alli - I watch your progress with immense interest!

Robb - Yeah, it's such a weird notion. As you say, who'd of thought something as simple as eeling could suddenly be stopped. Garnering support is hard too; eels are a hard sell compared to something fluffy & cuddly, like the kiwi.

Genie said...

I'm impressed. I have been wanting to go eeling and even dreamed of having eeling a part of my dream home/property. Thanks for sharing your eeling pics.

Nigel Olsen said...

Genie, my dream property would bear a strong resemblence to that owned by the Larkins in The Darling Buds of May - heavily idealised, but hey! There'd be a creek located at the bottom of the old, abandoned orchard chock full of eels. I look forward to that day...