Southland’s Mataura River is another of Aotearoa’s rivers that has suffered from intensive agricultural production. What was once sheep country is being converted to dairy, which is more pollution-intensive than other forms of farming, and more water hungry.
The upper to mid reaches of the Mataura get farming pollution as well as discharges from factories.
Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Mamoe have strong connections with this river, not just as a place to gather kai and other resources but an important taonga to ensure the wellbeing of the people. But traditional activities like gathering plants and kanakana (also called lamprey, a kind of native fish that looks like an eel) are off limits because of the pollution.
Hokonui Rūnanga are working hard on a project to restore a healthy, sustainable and abundant fishery using tikanga and rawa Māori to manage supply.
The river is still called a “trout fishing purist’s dream” – perhaps one day it will a kanakana and a swimmer’s dream too.