Back to top anchor

MyF&BJoin us Renew

An eel in reeds
Credit or caption

Credit: Anna Barnett


Freshwater Fish

Conservation area:

Most New Zealanders know about our whitebait, and our eels, but we actually have more than 50 species of native freshwater fish. They are secretive and fascinating, but sadly they are also in serious trouble.

Why it matters

Native fish are now absent from many of the streams where they were once found. 74 percent of our freshwater fish species are in danger of extinction.

Our fish face many threats

They are losing their habitat. We have already lost 90 percent of our wetlands, and wetlands are still being drained. Streams are drying up due to intense demand for irrigation and increasing droughts.

Banded kokopu

Banded kōkopu. Credit: Stella McQueen

Run-off from agricultural land contains nitrates, which in excess is toxic to fish. Algal blooms suck oxygen from our rivers and lakes and can also kill fish.

Dams, bridges and roads can cut off streams, making it hard for fish to travel up and downstream to feed and breed.

Harvesting of whitebait and commercial harvest of eels adds to the pressures on these species.

Credit or caption

Our native fish must be able to swim freely to feed and breed, but structures like roads, bridges, and dams can prevent them from moving up and down stream.

What is Forest & Bird doing?

  • We campaign for tougher rules to ensure our streams, rivers and wetlands are clean and healthy for freshwater fish
  • Our branches are restoring streams and wetlands to provide fish habitat
  • We are lobbying regional councils to ensure fish can travel freely up and down streams and out to sea, by adopting the Fish Passage Guidelines

Did you know?

  • Whitebait is actually made up of five separate species, four of which are in serious trouble. This
    means that a whitebait fritter is full of endangered juvenile fish
  • The only native fish with full legal protection is the grayling, which became extinct in the 1930s
  • Our galaxiids species are so named because their ‘galaxy-like’ gold speckling. We even have a fish named after a Hollywood celebrity, the Gollum galaxias!

Award winning photographer Rob Suisted walks us through his process for capturing our native fish in their natural habitat.  

Last updated

Nature needs your support

Supporting Forest & Bird is one of the best things you can do for New Zealand's environment. We need people like you to support us, so that nature will always have a voice.