05 November 2019

Te Arawa Catfish Killas took out the top prize at the New Zealand Biosecurity Awards last night - beating out entrants from major national companies, government agencies and large established projects.

The catfish eradication programme - dubbed ‘Catfish Killas’ - won the night’s supreme award as well as the award it had entered: The Department of Conservation Pihinga Award for new initiatives.

The project aims to stop the spread of catfish among Rotorua lakes and to control and eventually eliminate the pest fish in lakes where it is already established.

“It was amazing to go up against the people working to eradicate m.bovis, kauri dieback and other huge biosecurity projects,” says William Anaru who leads the Te Arawa Lakes Trust Catfish Killas programme: “we are a small group with an ambitious goal and these awards have reinforced our commitment to this important mahi.”

The Catfish Killas is made up of iwi members, local school groups and other volunteers who lay nets, catch pest fish and deliver education on how to stop the spread of catfish and their eggs. The Bay of Plenty Regional Council funds the initiative.

The group has taken off in the short time it has been established, and the Catfish Killas facebook page now has almost 800 members. William Anaru spends hours teaching volunteers (many of them children) how to trap and collect catfish and educate the public.
He says the real beauty of the project is how people with different things to contribute have all worked together to combine up-to-date science with tikanga Māori:

“It’s a great example of a biosecurity initiative using a Te Ao Māori approach to a contemporary issue. Guided by mātauraga Māori and practical research, this initiative is a testament to true collaboration between mana whenua and local and central government.”

Lucas Macdonald from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council says the council’s keen to see the word spread even further. He says the education component is critical, because many boaties visit from outside the region and may not have understood the catfish threat:

“It’s really important for people to realise that boats spread these pest fish. The fish get transported along with aquatic weed in boat trailers so it’s crucial to remember the check, clean, dry message and make sure your boat is clear- especially when moving between waterways.”

The Pihinga award was open to groups who had had begun a project within the past 18 months that demonstrates collective responsibility, community collaboration, good leadership and good practices along with a demonstrable improvement.

The catfish programme has seen a clear improvement: the number of catfish caught in Lake Rotoiti is down 18% on the previous season, despite twice as many nets being set. But with each catfish able to produce up to 6,000 eggs there is no room for complacency says William Anaru:

“It’s back to business for us today. As long as there are catfish in our lakes, the Catfish Killas will be out there netting and driving awareness of the threat.”