Plant & Food Research joins forces with Māori groups to conserve taonga fish and plants

28 May 2020

Scientists at Plant & Food Research will collaborate with Māori groups to develop protocols to preserve reproductive cells for iconic or endangered freshwater fish and develop local skills for the establishment of a nursery of regional treasures for the Ūawanui community near Gisborne.  

These two projects are backed by MBIE’s Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund with the goal to build new connections between Māori organisations and the science system. They also support Plant & Food Research’s vision to become a trusted and meaningful partner of Māori and promote prosperity by weaving Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) with Western science. 

Dr Matthew Wylie (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Māmoe, Waitaha), aquaculture scientist, and Dr Maren Wellenreuther, Science Group Leader of Seafood Production at Plant & Food Research, will lead the project "Contemporary kaitiakitanga (guardianship and protection) of freshwater taonga in Aotearoa". Together with collaborators from Ngāi Tahu/Kāi Tahu, the team will explore the ethical, methodological and cultural considerations that should guide the development and use of cryopreservation and surrogacy tools for fish that may assist iwi and hapū with the conservation, captive breeding and recovery of their freshwater taonga species. The research project will include iconic whitebait species giant kōkopu/taiwharu, endangered species mudfish/kōwaro, and some non-migratory galaxiid species, many of which are only found naturally within the Ngāi Tahu takiwā (tribal boundary).  

These technologies are likely to be transferrable to other species, and thus have important applications for conservation and the development of new fish species for aquaculture, providing opportunities to expand the Māori economy through aquaculture diversification, training and employment. 

Meanwhile, the “Uawanui Cultural Nursery Project” is being coordinated by Dr Jocelyn Eason, GM Science Food Innovation of Plant & Food Research, and Te Aitanga-ā-Hauiti Centre of Excellence. Along with Massey University collaborators, the team will provide vocational training to upskill Eco-Warrior cadets in nursery management and plant germplasm conservation, with a key focus on the rohe flora.  

These skills, together with expertise in plant propagation and an understanding of the ecology of the ecosystem, will enable the development of the Ūawanui Nursery. 

Each project will be awarded $100,000 (excluding GST) over the course of two years.  


In photo: Giant kōkopu/taiwharu (Galaxias argenteus)  

Photo credit: Ron Munro 

Nickkita Lau
Senior Communications Advisor, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925-7204
Mobile: +64-21-569-221