The piharau or lamprey (Geotria australis) lives in fresh water and the sea. Piharau resemble eels, but have no bones. Prized by Māori, they are also called korokoro or kanakana.
Utu piharau (lamprey weirs)
The utu piharau or lamprey weir was a straight fence placed across a river or stream, leaving an opening at one side. A net was set just downstream, leading into a hīnaki (eel pot). Piharau would swim along the fence to the opening, and be swept by the current into the net and hīnaki. Lamprey weirs were known as pā kanakana in the South Island.
The whakaparu piharau was a type of weir, made of stones and lined with ferns and grass. The whakapua was a bracken mat pegged to the river bed. When enough piharau were caught, it was rolled up and taken ashore.
As piharau worked their way up waterfalls, they were knocked off with a fern or nīkau leaf and put in a bucket. They were also caught in small hīnaki.
Matariki and piharau
Piharau are mentioned in the proverb ‘Ka kitea a Matariki, ka rere te korokoro’ (when Matariki is seen, the lamprey migrate). Matariki is the Pleiades constellation, which rises in the pre-dawn sky around June, signalling the Māori new year – and the running of the piharau.