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Native fish play an important role in the environment. The Murray–Darling Basin has over 60 species of native fish including freshwater, estuarine and those that move between the river and the sea. Many of these species are unique to Australia, with a number living only in the Murray–Darling Basin.

A healthy native fish community helps keep the river healthy by cycling nutrients like carbon and nitrogen and maintaining healthy food webs.  

We need to protect and restore native fish communities to improve the health of our rivers.

Water for the environment protects native fish

How we use water in our rivers, has changed natural flow volumes, timings and patterns of rivers. River flows affect the life cycles of native fish, and different species require different flows. Barriers, like dams, weirs and very dry climate conditions (which can stop the rivers running) can prevent native fish getting to where they need to be, to reach food and breeding areas.

Water for the environment, along with other management techniques like fishways and snags, is used to improve native fish populations, including threatened species. Providing flows in the right time at the right place helps native fish swim to where they need to be to feed, grow and breed.


Most native fish species need the following:


  • Healthy habitat to protect them from predators while they grow
  • Good water quality to survive and grow
  • Flowing rivers to reach the right habitat (for some fish species)


  • Suitable nursery habitat and food webs  to feed and grow 
  • Good water quality to grow
  • Healthy habitats to feed and hide from predators

Juvenile or young fish:

  • Seasonal flows to tell them when to move to feed and grow
  • Healthy habitat to feed and hide from predators
  • Good water quality to live and grow

Adult fish:

  • Connected rivers to reach the right habitat for different life stages, eg some fish need to find specific habitats to breed
  • Flowing rivers to tell them when to breed
  • Connected rivers to find food when conditions change, eg too hot or cold
  • Good water quality to breathe, feed and breed

Native fish are important for people

Native fish have a large social and cultural value to Basin communities. Recreational fishing is a major pastime throughout the Basin and generates $1.3 billion annually. Healthy fish populations are needed so recreational fishers can keep fishing.

Native fish are culturally important to Aboriginal people. The ability to fish for food and use the Basin environment for recreation and family and community gatherings maintains connections to land and water.

These environmental, economic and cultural values all depend upon healthy native fish populations. Releasing water for the environment helps to restore native fish populations so all of us can benefit from healthy rivers.

Deciding where water goes to help fish

This year:  annual environmental watering priorities for fish

Each year the Murray­–Darling Basin Authority sets watering priorities to restore native fish populations. The annual priorities are a guide for where water should be delivered for the current year to improve the health of plants and animals for the overall health of the Basin over the long term, as set out in the Basin watering strategy.

2019 –20 priorities for native fish are:

  • Support and where possible build upon populations of large-bodied native fish species in the southern connected Basin.
  • Protect critical populations and habitats and improve connectivity in northern Basin rivers to support native fish populations.
  • Provide flows that protect refuges, maintain river connectivity and support population recovery of native fish in the Barwon–Darling and lower Darling rivers.
  • Maintain and improve existing populations of threatened native fish.
  • Support flows that replenish refuge waterholes for native fish in the Narran system.
  • Provide flows that improve habitat for floodplain specialist fish in Koondrook–Perricoota Forest.
  • Provide flows and manage lake levels so that habitat for threatened fish species is maintained at the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth.

Annual priorities are small steps in the short term to achieve long term goals.

One important component to determine the locations and amount of water to be delivered each year is the resource availablity scenario.This considers climate conditions (rainfall, runoff and soil moisture), surface water availability in dams and the climate outlook.

Longer term:  multi-year environmental watering priorities 

Our goal is to maintain and improve the health of native fish populations and restore the entire river system to health.

Broad goals for key native fish species are to:

  • expand distributions across the Basin
  • improve breeding success
  • improve populations
  • increase movement of fish throughout the Basin.