New research shows hunter-created wetlands make an "ideal habitat" for native eels, according to Southland Fish and Game.
The organisation monitored 46 waterfowl hunting ponds (duck ponds) across the region last summer in an effort to estimate the number and biomass (kg) of eels supported by Southland duck ponds.
They found some ponds supported more than 100 eels and, on average, each duck pond supported 16 shortfin eels weighing 10kg and 10 longfin eels weighing over 9kg.
The longfin eel is currently categorised as at-risk by the Department of Conservation, and has a declining population.
Fish and Game field officer Cohen Stewart says the research showed the important role hunters have for the country's native fish species.
"It was incredible to see how many eels call Southland duck ponds home," Stewart said on Tuesday.
"As we lifted our nets in some ponds, they were literally teeming with eels.
"The results of our work clearly highlight that hunters really are conservationists, not just of waterfowl, but our native fish as well."
Southland Fish and Game estimated there are around 7600 duck ponds in Southland, which, when extrapolated out, would mean around 120,000 shortfin eels and 80,000 longfin eels, collectively weighing over 150,000kg, are supported by the ponds.
"If it were not for these hunter-created wetlands, there would be far less habitat available for our native eels," Stewart said.
Around 40,000 New Zealand hunt each year, and Fish and Game says it's "a very important part of the local culture".
Despite its popularity, there are also many who vocally oppose the sport. Animal rights group SAFE says it's "inherently cruel" and should be banned.