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Fish Passage in NZ


Fish Passage in NZ

Protecting New Zealand’s Freshwater Fish

The role of instream culverts in fish passage in New Zealand


Poorly designed instream structures (including culverts, weirs and dams) are a significant contributing factor in the declining populations of New Zealand’s native freshwater fish.

According to DOC, about 70% of New Zealand’s native fish are threatened or at risk and the main factor in these declining populations isn’t overfishing. The greatest threat is changes to natural habitats which prevent fish from moving easily through New Zealand’s waterways.

Culverts, weirs and flood gates are very common throughout New Zealand streams and rivers, but if these structures are not designed, installed and maintained correctly, they can disrupt fish lifecycles by creating barriers to fish passage and preventing fish moving up and downstream and to the sea.



Recently there has been an increased focus on protecting the future of New Zealand’s more than 50 species of freshwater fish. This increased focus means there is now a greater emphasis on compliance with regulatory requirements relating to fish passage – so civil engineers, landowners and farmers with waterways on their land need to familiarise themselves with the legislation and what it means for them.

In 2018 the New Zealand Fish Passage Guidelines were released and in late 2019 the Conservation (Indigenous Freshwater Fish) Amendment Bill was passed to give the Department of Conservation and regional councils a ‘better legislative toolbox to improve fisheries management’.

Under the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has responsibilities to manage fish passage in any natural New Zealand waterway.

This means:

    • Culverts and fords may not impede – delay or prevent by obstructing – fish passage unless they have been approved or exempted by DOC
    • DOC needs to determine if all dams or diversion structures proposed to be built and built post 1983 require a fish facility
    • Existing fish facilities may not be structurally modified without approval from DOC.




Any new structure in a stream must be properly designed and constructed to allow appropriate fish passage up and downstream.

While all sites are unique and a case-by-case approach to design is required, one of the simplest steps to take before the installation of any new instream structure is to read the New Zealand Fish Passage Guidelines (see the sources and links below) and develop a plan for your design. It is important to follow the advice when developing the design of any new structure – or when designing any modifications to existing structures.

Good fish passage design for an instream structure ensures:


Instream structures should be designed to avoid vertical drops, water that is too shallow, high water velocities, excessive turbulence, sharp corners, overhanging edges, and smooth substrates.




One of the simplest solutions for an instream structure that can meet the guidelines for fish passage is the installation of a large culvert that is buried to a sufficient depth so it simulates the stream environment around it in terms of the channel width, depth and slope.

With a large culvert that is buried to the right depth you can retain the bank-line inside the culvert and ensure you have the natural substrate (such as pebbles, gravel, silt or plants) present throughout the culvert too.

In using this design you are aiming to offer the same water depths, resting areas and basic habitat that is present in the rest of the river or stream to enable fish species to easily pass and complete their lifecycle.

A simple solution: large instream culverts buried to the right depth allow for natural water depth and can simulate the stream environment.

As outlined in the New Zealand Fish Passage Guidelines it is important that any instream structures are durable and have minimal maintenance requirements.

P&F Global’s EUROFLO® pipes are one option for instream structures: made from high density polyethylene (or HDPE) the pipes are maintenance and rust free, robust (made in Europe they are one of the strongest plastic pipes on the market) and they come in a range of sizes up to 2100mm in diameter.




Spending some time planning the design and installation of any new or modified instream structure is the key to ensuring it is compliant.

Remember the aim of the stream simulation design approach is to create within the structure a channel as similar as possible to the adjacent stream channel in both structure and function.

With the new structure in place you are aiming to avoid any changes in fish distribution and abundance or any delay in the passage of a life-stage of a species in differing flows.

If you want assistance in choosing culverts, visit the P&F Global website or talk to your local EUROFLO® stockist.

Anyone looking at installing a culvert or ford in a natural river, stream or waterway – or modifying an existing one – that may impede fish passage, needs to seek ‘fish passage authorisation’ from the Department or Conservation (DOC).

If you think your new (or existing) culvert or ford impedes the movement of fish, or will do so in the future, visit the DOC website and search for “fish passage authorisations” and follow the process to apply for an exemption or contact with any questions.

This graphic – illustrating the order of preference for road crossing designs – shows how a large culvert allows for stream simulation and the creation of a structure that mimics the natural habitat and provides for unimpeded fish passage. Image credit: New Zealand Fish Passage Guidelines


Download a copy of the white paper here


The content of this brochure has been reviewed by the Department of Conservation.




On large culverts, visit:

On fish passage management, visit:

Regional councils



Department of Conservation (DOC)

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)

New Zealand Parliament