Black Mudfish Habitat Restoration: Empire Corporation Group

At a glance...

The client

Empire Corporation Group hit a roadblock with their project after two years of planning when black mudfish were found in drains within their site.

The challenge

Black mudfish are a protected species with unique habitat requirements. This creates real challenges for managing the effects of land development on black mudfish.

The outcome

A large-scale, black mudfish habitat enhancement around Lake Waiwhakareke was successfully completed and black mudfish successfully re-homed.


Based in the Waikato, Empire Corporation Group were two years deep into a property development project. They wanted to turn their farmland into land viable for industrial use, which was in high demand in the region. But the discovery of protected black mudfish living in drains on the property resulted in a significant ecological challenge that needed to be addressed.

The ask

With the protected black mudfish found in drains on their property, our client was forced to halt their project.

The endemic black mudfish has an “at risk” conservation status, and has a number of unusual adaptations that mean slow flowing streams, drains, peat lakes and wetlands are their preferred habitats. This makes them very vulnerable to habitat loss.

The impact that our client’s project would have on the black mudfish habitat was unavoidable. So, an offsetting approach was critical for any work to continue. We needed to find a way to protect the fish and continue the project.

Why us?

“It was our experience and reputation from other projects that led to us being asked to do this one.”

Richard Montgomerie | Managing Director of Ecological Solutions
Black mudfish are a complex species to relocate, and to our knowledge, this had never been done at scale before in New Zealand.
Our client had heard about our successful work on a similar project, also dealing with black mudfish. So, they knew that we had the specialist skills and experience to take on the job.

Our solution

In order to find a viable, long-term solution, we needed to quantify the issue, assess the effects and then develop and implement the solutions required to protect black mudfish.

Our assessment of effects looked at:

  • Identifying the impact of our client’s project to the black mudfish habitat.
  • The impact of moving the black mudfish to a new habitat.
  • How to mitigate, remedy, and offset the impacts of these activities.

Our fish survey looked at:

  • The size of the black mudfish population.
  • The size of their habitat on the client’s property.
  • The quality of this habitat.
We did these in order to identify:
  • The specific needs of this population of black mudfish.
  • The number of fish we would need to relocate.
  • The potential negative effects of relocation and restoration.

“One of the biggest challenges in the assessment of effects particularly is identifying any significant residual adverse effects after you’ve applied the effects hierarchy principles of avoid, mitigate, and remedy

Then you need a robust process for quantifying the biodiversity offsetting that’s required for the residual effect (here it’s the black mudfish habitat). We had to understand the biology of the animal and make that tangible habitat feasible in Hamilton.”
Once we had the information required, we set about scouting locations for a new, suitable black mudfish habitat.
Settling on the Waikato’s Lake Waiwhakareke, we worked with other specialists to design suitable mudfish habitat, and once constructed, certify the new habitat. We then spent 14 nights trapping and moving over 500 black mudfish.

The results

Our client’s project was able to proceed.

We found a solution that the regional council, iwi and the city council all had confidence in, that also worked for the landowner and protected the mudfish.”

We successfully relocated a sensitive protected species to a suitable habitat, satisfying both the ecological and commercial requirements of the project.

We communicated with all the relevant stakeholders including the local iwi, the regional and city councils, and the Department of Conservation to ensure that all necessary protocols were met.

One step further…

“We always try to deliver not just a neutral impact for our clients, but a benefit or improvement somewhere too. And we ticked this box.”

Not only did we move the fish successfully, but we established a larger habitat in the new location. If similar projects arise in the area, there is an appropriate solution ready to go.

We have since been in talks with Waikato University about collaborating on further research into black mudfish restoration.  

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