Watershed book from freshwater fisheries expert

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A landmark publication by New Zealand's most distinguished freshwater fish expert, Dr R. M. (Bob) McDowall, was released posthumously this week.

Published by Canterbury University Press in association with the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, Ikawai: Freshwater fishes in Māori culture and economy draws together all that has ever been written about the role of freshwater fishes in the lives of early Māori.

Until his untimely death in February this year, Dr McDowall was a widely published author and acknowledged world authority on the taxonomy and biogeography of New Zealand's freshwater fish. During his 40-year career with the Marine Department, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and NIWA, he wrote 230 papers (in 66 different journals), 14 books and more than 300 reports and popular articles on freshwater fish.

Dr McDowall was working on Ikawai when he passed away. NIWA colleague Dr Don Jellyman said: "Māori have a saying that when a respected person dies, a giant tree has fallen in the forest, but it's falling makes space for new growth. Bob was that giant in freshwater fisheries. His legacy lives on in his writings and the many students and researchers who are able to build upon his scientific discoveries."

Dr McDowall made it his life's work to read every word ever written on the subject of Māori fisheries, from passing references in explorers' diaries to the recent reports of the Waitangi Tribunal. With a foreword by Sir Tumu Te Heuheu, Ikawai draws Dr McDowall's research together to create an essential resource for anyone interested in New Zealand freshwater fishes, or the lives and livelihood of Māori.

Ikawai also illustrates the beauty associated with Māori fisheries through an extraordinary collection of photographs and artworks of fish and fishing artefacts, as well as historical images hidden away in archives, libraries and photographic collections.

Ikawai was launched on Wednesday 12 October at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.

About the author:

Dr McDowall's publications on this fish fauna date from the 1960s, and several of his books became standard reference works. Bob gained an MSc from Victoria University of Wellington and a PhD from Harvard University, and was Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He passed away in February 2011.

Ainslie McDowall. Credit: Dave Allen
Craig Ellison [NIWA Deputy Chairman], NIWA. Credit: Dave Allen
The McDowall family. Credit: Dave Allen
Don Jellyman [MC], NIWA. Credit: Dave Allen
Barb Hayden and Craig Ellison [NIWA Deputy Chairman], NIWA. Credit: Dave Allen
Rod Carr [VC], University of Canterbury. Credit: Dave Allen
Waiata, NIWA. Credit: Dave Allen