Threat to new mudfish species

Article appeared in the NZ Herald of 24 October 1997, by Angela Gregory

Kerikeri - Research into the most strange and secretive of New Zealand native fish has led to the surprise discovery of a new species of the swamp-dwelling mudfish. It was found in a Northland study of the threatened mudfish, also known as mud or spring eels, by Landcare Research working with the Department of Conservation and the University of Waikato.

A Landcare research scientist, Dr Dianne Gleeson, said the mudfish (known to Maori as hauhau or waikaka) was probably New Zealand's strangest and most secretive native fish. It could survive drought conditions with a kind of hybernation, by wriggling into the mud down to 1.5 m.

Spotted mudfishThere were thought to be three species - the Canterbury, the brown and the black - but Dr Gleeson said sampling of Northland mudfish had revealed a new species at Kerikeri and Ngawha to the west. Dr Gleeson said the newly discovered mudfish was classified as endangered as the two Northland sites were restricted and under threat. The Department of Conservation owned the Ngawha site, near hot springs, but it had only a small water pool with no juveniles.

"Either the fish aren't breeding or they are being consumed for food." The Kerikeri population was more promising. But the site backed onto the Kerikeri airport and there was a risk the runway could be extended as tourism increased.

Dr Gleeson said the new species, which looked quite different from other mudfish, was as yet unnamed but "spotted mudfish" was being considered. Mudfish were threatened by habitat destruction. In Northland this was through peat, kauri gum and log extraction, or fire.

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