Fish passage and structures in rivers rules

Here's all the information about the rules around fish passages and structures in rivers and lakes.

What are fish passages and structures in rivers/lakes?

Fish passage is the ability for fish to move unobstructed through our waterways. Conversely, barriers to fish passage are any instream structures that may block or impede passage. This includes culverts, weirs, fords, dams and tide flood gates and, if not designed and implemented correctly, can hinder fish passage. Seventy-six per cent of our indigenous freshwater fish species are threatened or at risk of extinction in New Zealand. 

The regulations

Regulations for good fish passage including minimum design standards were introduced in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 (NES-FW) as part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater reforms

The regulations control activities that pose a risk to fish passage by setting requirements for the placement, use, alteration, extension or reconstruction of culverts, weirs, flap gates, dams and fords. This includes the placement, alteration, extension or reconstruction of any of these structures in, on, over or under the bed of any river or connected area in Taranaki, including temporary structures.

The regulations do not apply to: 

  • An existing structure, including any later alterations or extensions of that structure, where it was in the river or connected area before 3 September 2020
  • A customary weir that is used for the purpose of practising tikanga Māori, including customary fishing practices.

Resource consents are now required for new structures in rivers that do not comply with permitted activity standards for fish passage under the NES-FW. New instream structures which need a resource consent must meet minimum maintenance and monitoring requirements. 

If a structure is replaced (you swap out a culvert) then the NES-FW comes in to effect, so you must meet the requirements of the NES-FW and the Regional Freshwater Plan for Taranaki.

When installing a structure in a waterway, you must provide information about the structure to us within 20 days of it being installed.

Regional Freshwater Plan rules

Providing for fish passage has been a requirement for a number of permitted and consented activities since the inception of the Taranaki Regional Freshwater Plan in 2001. If your structure was installed before the release of the NES-FW in 2020 then it is likely that you will continue to meet the requirements of the plan and any consent that you received under that plan.

Structures installed before the inception of the Taranaki Regional Freshwater Plan are also required to provide for fish passage under this plan. If you have installed a structure since the inception of the plan that does not meet the requirements of the plan then you may need a retrospective consent

Useful links

TRC factsheet Structures in rivers and lakes and reclamation of rivers [PDF, 1.3 MB]

Ministry for the Environment (MfE) Assessment tool (external link)factsheet | Regulations for fish passage

Department of Conservation Fish passage management (external link)

NIWA Fish Passage Assessment Tool(external link)

The Essential Freshwater reforms: a quick guide

The Government’s Essential Freshwater reform package aims to protect and improve our rivers, streams and wetlands to stop further degradation of freshwater, start making immediate improvements and reverse past damage to bring our waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM 2020) sets out the policies and the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-FW) establishes the regulations to achieve this.

What this means for people in Taranaki is requirements are being set for those carrying out certain activities that pose risks to freshwater and freshwater ecosystems. Anyone carrying out these activities will need to comply with the standards and, in many cases, people need to apply for a resource consent from the Council to continue carrying out regulated activities.

All of this is underpinned by Te Mana o te Wai(external link) (the mana of the water). Te Mana o te Wai means that when managing freshwater, the health and well-being of the water is protected and human health needs are provided for before enabling other uses of water.

Fish passage examples

Working together to improve fish passage on the Waipuku Stream.