THE REAL DIRT

Throwing the Babies Out With the Bucket Water

November 24th, 2008 · 4 Comments · News

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Pictures and Story by JAMES WOODFORD

This week Tim Fletcher threw out 70,000 babies with the bucket water.
Fletcher’s job with the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, partly funded by the NSW Environmental Trust, is to help rehabilitate the Snowy – the nation’s most famous river.
In the past three weeks Authority staff, local landowners, aquaculture experts and recreational fishermen have released 120,000 specially bred Australian Bass fingerlings along 180 kilometres of the Snowy River.

Check out the (daggy) Real Dirt Film of the Helicopter Bass Release


On Tuesday alone Fletcher and his colleagues, Danny Henderson and Leon Miners, flew more than a dozen helicopter sorties into inaccessible reaches and released 70,000 captive-reared bass fingerlings.
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The goal is to re-seed the Snowy’s lower reaches with native fish life and re-establish a recreational fishing industry.
From Dalgety to the border the only fish an angler is likely to haul onto the bank is a goldfish – a species which has thrived.
Noel Buckland is a keen trout fisherman, treasurer of the Monaro Acclimatisation Society and secretary of the Snowy River Fishing Club.
“These days any fish in the Snowy River is a bonus,” Mr Buckland said. “Pound for pound bass are probably one of the best fighting fish around.”
Researchers are confident that a trout and bass fishery can co-exist.
When Snowy Hydro completed its massive network of tunnels and dams the once mighty waterway was catastrophically impacted. All but a single per cent of its flows were diverted to the west, hundreds of kilometres of riverbed were infested with willows and the entire ecosystem collapsed.
Native fish stocks were wiped out, particularly in the lower altitude reaches around Dalgety.
It has now been nearly two decades since the Snowy’s top order carnivore – the Australian Bass – has bred.
In the high country, only a dedicated effort by acclimatisation societies stocking feral trout into alpine streams and dams has kept a recreational fishing industry alive.
Although bass were known, historically, to travel high into mountain streams, trout do not like warm water and so cannot survive at lower elevations.
This new program of re-stocking the lower reaches with natives comes as the future of stocking the upper reaches with exotic trout is in doubt due to the State Government’s recent decision to close the Gaden Trout Hatchery.
The only original bass still alive are in Victoria but are now so old that the species is at risk of imminent local extinction.
These elderly fish have ceased breeding and no-one is sure why.
The obvious answer was the severe degradation.
But, according to the Catchment Authority’s landscape manager, Brett Miners, other factors may be at play such as changes in salinity of the estuary, water quality and blockages to river passages.
“We have still got half a dozen questions we want answered,” Mr Miners said. “They have missed three generations of recruiting now and we don’t want to get into a situation of long-term stocking.”
This program bought time until answers could be found, Mr Miners said.
“In the forties and fifties the Snowy was recognised as one of the top three or four bass fisheries in Australia.”
 Desperate to ensure the Snowy bass genes were not lost forever, two years ago a collection of wild brood stock was captured and sent for breeding to Narooma Aquaculture on the NSW south coast.
The program has been so successful that so far in two seasons nearly 200,000 bass have been released.
The survival of the young fish is monitored by NSW Fisheries every ten weeks.
“After 12 months last year’s releases have gone from 20mm to 120mm,” Mr Fletcher said.

First published Sydney Morning Heral 22/12/08

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Denis Wilson

    Hi James
    Glad they are restocking with Bass.
    Trout are very popular with fishermen, but they are no less feral, and damaging than rabbits are (on dry land). Admittedly they are better than Carp. But only just.
    The Snowy needs more water flow – above all else.
    The 1% figure (% of original flow down the eastern valley, not diverted) you mentioned was meant to be increased to something like 15% I seem to recall. But I’ll bet that promise is being overlooked (in the name of the MD Basin crisis).
    A good issue to raise, but it is a contentious issue.
    Denis

  • Rob Pallin

    Gday,

    What superb action. we need more natives and less ferals like trout.

  • Steve

    I reckon acclimatisation societies should be listed as terrorist organisations given their generally selfish and ecologically horrendous activities (at least historically). I was taught that the acclimatisation movement was an artefact of the 1800s and that it was responsible for the deliberate introduction and spread of numerous now-feral species. The movement’s aims including ‘improving Australia’ by introducing various plants and animals, and reworking the landscape through these introductions to make Australia ‘more civilised’. Unsurprisingly, they believed that they had (their) god on their side. They invoked a version of the Cistercian view that Man (sic) was bound to improve on God’s work / creation by doing-away with such unproductive things as swamps and dense forest. Cistercians were driven by agrarian productivism (e.g. the whole world should be a farm) and the acclimatisation movement went further by viewing Australia as the ‘dag end’ of Creation – a part that needed finishing in the same sense that the late June Dally Watkins figured that girls needed training to be ‘finished’ into young women. Muddled into the mix was a lot of Eurocentric aesthetics (Australia needed to look, smell and sound like Europe – hence, amongst so many other things, the accursed Blackbird being introduced). They also had an interest in recreational hunting that saw the introduction of the fox and the rabbit etc. Feral trout are no different. I’m pleased to eat them but I don’t want to see our rivers restocked with them. Good to read that the bass are being reinstated. Let’s see the feral trout go the same way as the willows that once infested most of the Snowy.

  • fiona

    Out with Trout! It’s got a nice ring to it.

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