8 October 2021
Tongariro River is one of the best fishing rivers in the world, with keen anglers coming from near and far to hook a rainbow or brown trout.
And for decades people of all ages have visited the Tongariro National Trout Centre beside SH1 to learn about fly fishing and the region’s freshwater environment. The centre’s aquarium has one of New Zealand’s best collections of native freshwater fish including giant kōkopu, kōura, tuna and kōaro, just to name a few species endemic to Aotearoa.
A working trout hatchery on site supplies up to 16,000 baby trout or "trout fry" annually which eventually end up in the trout centre’s kids’ pond for young anglers to try and catch.
But education is the main focus as the Tongariro National Trout Centre Society (a charitable trust) tries to raise awareness about fishing, conservation, and how to look after the freshwater environment that our native species exist in.
Trout centre Manager Bevin Severinsen says a basic education programme for schools has run successfully for many years thanks to sponsorship from Genesis Energy. But that partnership has now come to an end, and new funding partners are being sought to help launch a national NZQA-approved course in the near future.
BayTrust is the first major funding partner to commit to the project, contributing $30,000. “It’s very exciting for us,” Bevin says. “We hope this is the beginning of a long-term relationship with BayTrust who have decided to help us and sponsor the start of this next phase of our education programme.”
It’s hoped the centre will soon cater for everyone from preschoolers through to senior secondary school and tertiary students who can spend several days (or longer) in Tūrangi doing field work before heading back to the classroom and continuing their learning.
At present, over 1100 school students visit the trout centre each year as part of the education programme offered. The new initiative is designed to attract a much larger number of school groups to Taupō from around the North Island and engage a whole new generation of fly fishermen and women about how to look after and protect our native fish species and the environment. Those who are Year 11 and above will be able to earn NZQA credits at the same time.
Loss of habitat is a major issue facing native fish species. “One of the problems is so many of us know so little about it. And that’s where education starts to come in – making more people aware that we are putting a lot of our freshwater species at huge risk and we have to actually do something about it.
“The demand is constantly growing for education products where kids can get into the outdoors and touch, feel, see and do things to assist their education and learning around freshwater.”
When it comes to native fish species, Bevin says it’s all about balancing their habitat needs with human demands. “When I was young, you would walk around the farm and you’d see all these fish in the drains and waterways and now it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find these native species.
“We’ve all come to realise you can’t continue to fish haphazardly…we’ve been doing this with our sea species now for a number of years but it’s also very apparent that we’ve got to be very aware of the impacts of human habitation and activity on our native species. And so that is what we hope to focus on with our education programme.”
Expertise On Hand
Tongariro National Trout Centre Society Board Member Doug Stevens is an educator with over three decades of secondary and tertiary sector experience. He will now work the NZQA to develop an approved course of study which he hopes will be available from next year.
“I’m excited to develop something that will take the trout centre to another level. We have got a unique facility here, with an ideal location right on the Tongariro River. There’s a fantastic aquarium of all the native fish, and it is a great resource for the whole education sector to make use of.”
Doug’s dream is to replicate ideas he has seen overseas where students are asked to solve a fictional mystery such as ‘who killed the river’ to educate them about fragile ecosystems. Kids are sent clue packages and must complete tasks to decide if a particular industry, person or activity is responsible – all the while learning about the impact human activity has on our waterways.
“The kids just love it. I’ve never seen kids so engaged,” he says. “The students can come here to Tongariro to look at our ecology and then continue the adventure back at school. And the older students would then receive NZQA credits so there’s extra incentive in all areas.”