In the Field

Catadromous Eels of
New Zealand

There has not been much written about the rich relationship between the Maori and the eel, mostly because the Maori culture is primarily oral. If I had not been traveling with a Maori (Stella August, who had just finished her master's thesis on eels at Waikato University, specifically glass eel migration on her tribal river, the Tukituki), then many of the elders would not have met with us or shared their stories. Throughout Polynesia, the eel replaces the snake in creation myths. Having inherited the basic stories from India and Indonesia where the snake plays the roles of erotic symbol and monster seducer, as well as an auspicious symbol, and guardian, the eel became a substitue in the islands, simply because there are no native snakes. The longfin eel in New Zealand, Anguilla dieffenbachii, is the largest freshwater eel in the world, growing up to 8 feet long and over one hundred pounds. Female longfins can live over 100 years, thought some Maori say they live much longer.

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Stella August feeding eels in North Island.



Stella's father in an old photo with an eel he speared.



Bill Kerrison with a longfin and shortfin eel on his wall.



Camping with DJ, a Maori bush guide.



Splayed eel hanging to dry.



Kelly Davis in the South Island with a big eel.



Eel fisher on birdlings flat, South Island.