The Native Murray–Darling rainbowfish, Melanotaenia fluviatilis, Photo by Gunther Schmida
The Native Trout cod, Maccullochella
macquariensis. Photo by Gunther Schmida
Unique, evocative and in some cases threatened, these descriptions apply to Australia's native fish and none more so than those found in the Murray–Darling Basin.
Providing a response to the key threats has been the focus of the Native Fish Strategy 2003-2013 in the Basin, encompassing a vision to ensure that the Basin sustains viable fish populations and communities throughout its rivers.
Threats range from flow regulation to habitat degradation, lowered water quality, man-made barriers to fish movement, the introduction of alien fish species, fisheries exploitation, the spread of diseases and the translocation and stocking of fish. Native fish populations in the Basin's rivers have declined under these threats, with experts estimating that levels are as low as 10 per cent compared to pre-European settlement.
The Murray–Darling Basin is home to 46 native fish species ranging from the legendary metre-long Murray cod to small prey such as the Olive perchlet and rainbowfish. They evolved to endure the irregular flooding and drying cycles that are typical of the Basin, and each species has developed different tactics for hunting, building a home and finding a mate. Over half of the Basin's native fish however, are considered rare, threatened and of conservation concern.
In its ten year history the strategy has been highly successful in raising awareness and generating support for the management of native fish across the Basin. The development of fishways from the Hume Dam to the River Murray mouth in South Australia has enabled the movement of native fish for over 2,000kms; this is just one of the achievements of this strategy.
Resident of the Mitta Mitta River 90 year old George Murtagh
In 2006, researcher Will Trueman commenced work to examine the historic occurrence of Trout cod and other native fish in the southern half of the Murray–Darling Basin. Using oral histories, science, newspapers, diaries, and photographs, Trueman collected and analysed historical information on native fish in the Basin.
The research helped to identify original distribution and habitat preferences of native fish and records of catchment change. The MDBA has worked closely with the Australian River Restoration Centre to develop the True Tales of the Trout Cod website.
The website aims to increase awareness of native fish decline and creates a window into the past through which we gain an insight to our history, and hopefully some wisdom to be better prepared for the future. As long time resident of the Mitta Mitta River 90 year old George Murtagh put it 'the way things were in the past are gone. Those times won't be back. But people should know how it once was'.
The Native Fish strategy has successfully used Demonstration Reaches to demonstrate how implementing multiple on-ground actions can protect and improve native fish habitat and populations. There are seven demonstration reaches in the Basin, located on the Condamine, Namoi, Darling and Murrumbidgee Rivers and the Ovens, Hollands and Katarapko Creeks.
The vision of the Strategy is to ensure that the Basin sustains viable and healthy fish populations throughout its rivers. Addressing multiple threats has the greatest chance of rehabilitating fish populations and improving river health. The Native Fish Strategy was structured around six Key Driving Actions that tackled a range of threats impacting native fish:
Wavy Marshwort on a pond in the
Narran Lakes. Photo by Arthur Mostead
All six of these driversinvolved community engagement at their core to ensure the support and involvement of Basin communities. The Native Fish Strategy program focused on partnerships with stakeholders, community organisations and jurisdictional government agencies. Native Fish Strategy State Coordinators and the Community Stakeholder Taskforce were successful and vital elements in that process.