Fisheries Infosite

Long-finned eel Northland/Auckland (LFE20)
Maori name
Scientific name
Anguilla dieffenbachii

Physical characteristics

There are two species of Freshwater Eel in New Zealand, the Shortfin eel and the Longfin eel. The Longfin is sooty black all over. Longfin eels have average lengths of 50-70 cm and 80-100 cm for males and females respectively.

Life cycle

Longfin eels have a maximum age of 106 and reach maturity at 33 years. It is thought that both types spawn only once after a migration from freshwater to the ocean then die.

The longfin eel is endemic to New Zealand. These eels are generally long-lived and breed only once before they die. Growth rates are highly variable, with female longfin eels commonly migrating to their spawning grounds at ages ranging from 27−61 years.  When they reach maturity, longfin eels swim out to sea and then travel to their spawning grounds, thought to be somewhere east of Tonga. Dams and other barriers can stop these migrating eels from reaching the sea and their spawning grounds.  Eel larvae are transported from the spawning grounds to New Zealand via the South Equatorial Current. The larvae then turn into juveniles called elvers that swim up the mouths of rivers and streams from August to November. The upstream migration of these juveniles distributes eels throughout streams, rivers and lakes. Dams, culverts and waterfalls can stop the upstream migration of these eels. Longfin eels prefer stony rivers and often travel far inland to river headwaters and high country lakes.


Freshwater Eels are found throughout New Zealand waters. Shortfin eels live in lowland lakes and muddy rivers. Longfin eels live in stony rivers and high country lakes. Both spend the majority of their lives in freshwater and migrate to the ocean to spawn.

The New Zealand longfin eel is an iconic species and is highly valued for recreational and cultural purposes. There is also a commercial fishery for these eels. Maori hold a significant interest in both commercial and non-commercial uses of the species.

South Island freshwater eels is managed under the QMS as ANG. All catch and value information relating to this stock can be found on the ANG species page. North Island freshwater eels are managed under the QMS as LFE and SFE. (click here)

Key statistics
Reported commercial catch1 (tonnes)
Quota value estimate2 (NZ$m)
Exports estimate2 (NZ$m)
1 Reported commercial catch is calculated for the 12 month period to 30/09/2025
2 Quota value and exports are calculated pro-rata to reported commercial catch for the 12 month period to 30/09/2025