Our flagship native fisheries (and how we got there)
Our native fisheries need help because rivers across the Murray Darling Basin have been highly modified and over regulated for more than 150 years. Water extraction, barriers to fish movement, de-snagging, erosion, siltation, reverse season flows and thermal pollution, all hold back native fish breeding, migration and survival. This is the operating environment in which Fisheries Managers do their work.
The good news is, by investing in habitat restoration, putting snags back, increasing fish stocking and removing barriers to fish movement we are bring native fish back. There's a lot more to do but even over the last decade, the results are more than encouraging – they are in some cases, quite remarkable.
Since 1990, the Victorian Fisheries Authority (formerly Fisheries Victoria) has stocked more than 30 million native fish in hundreds of waterways.
Annual native fish stockings has increased almost 5 fold since the 1990's, culminating in 4 million stocked fish this year under the Target One Million program.
Here's the low down on some of Victoria's established, developing and proposed native recreational fisheries.
Established (flagship) native fisheries
Native fish stocking in Lake Eildon between 1990 and 1995 focussed on small numbers of golden perch. While golden perch and Murray cod stocking numbers increased modestly up until 1999, it wasn't until after this that stocking numbers increased significantly (100,000 to 150,000 fish / year). This level of stocking saw the emergence of a spring-time golden perch fishery in the early 2000's as these fish started coming through the fishery.
It was only from 2008 onward, we stocked larger numbers of Murray cod in Lake Eildon. Buoyed by our golden perch experience, we increased fish stocking numbers for both golden perch and Murray cod, culminating in the stocking of more than 1 million Murray cod over three years between 2011 and 2013.
This "pulse stocking" approach has now realised a large population of Murray cod between 60 and 80 cm. Since then, we have settled into a maintenance stocking program of around 150,000 golden perch and 100,000 Murray cod each year.
Lake Eildon is coming of age as one of the best stocked cod fisheries in Australia. Pulse stocking and tight slot limit regulations will see this fishery get better and better.
Kerang Lakes: (Kangaroo, Charm & Boga)
These and other Kerang lake waters were commercial fished (schedule 8 of the Fisheries Act) for many years until a commercial fishing entitlements were bought out in 2003. Since then, a concerted effort to stock these waters with Murray cod and golden perch has created high quality native fisheries, particularly in Kangaroo Lake and Lake Charm. Recent installation of 94 fish havens in Kangaroo and Lake Bogo are showing early signs of aggregating both stocked fish and silver perch and good angling.
The Ovens River:
The Ovens River between Myrtleford and where it joins Lake Mulwala (Bundalong) has the largest river population of Murray cod in the state. It also holds a good population of golden perch in the lower reaches and a recovering population of trout cod. More than 280,000 trout cod were stocked in this water between 1997 and 2006. Recent efforts to stock Macquarie perch are also working. The Ovens River is a shining example of an unregulated and environmentally protected river that supports self-sustaining population of Murray cod – they breed naturally. Over the last decade, considerable habitat restoration works (fencing to stop livestock, installing snags & removing barriers to fish movement) have made a big difference to the fishery.
A wild Ovens River Murray cod caught by the author.
Root balls ready to be installed in the Broken River - re-snagging is a long-lasting way to recover native fisheries.
There are long list of native fisheries that are "a work in progress" and are starting to deliver encouraging results. Here are a few of those that are showing real potential over the next 5 years:
Lake Nagambie (including mid-Goulburn River)
Before 2009, stocking in Lake Nagambie was limited to around 10,000 golden perch / year. From 2009, stocking numbers increased to 150,000 - 200,000 golden perch / year and 50,000 - 100,000 Murray cod / year. This "pulse stocking" created a high quality native fishery at Lake Nagambie, and the Goulburn river that runs through it. Angling club catch surveys have clearly showed the emergence of native stocked fish.
Rich habitat diversity and instream timber (flooded forest) will sustain a high quality and developing native fishery well into the future.
There are many other developing native fisheries that deserve a mention including; Lake Eppalock, Lake Nillahcootie, Cairn Curran, Gunbower Creek, Taylors Lake and Lake Buffalo. All of these waters on their day can produce exciting native fishing opportunities and, all are expected to improve over time.
Murray cod and golden perch catches are a direct result of 'pulse stocking' in Lake Nagambie since 2009.
At the southern end of the natural range, Gippsland bass have been held back by water regulation priorities including, water storages, barriers to migration and low flows during the millennium drought. Bass need high spring flows all the way to the estuary to successfully breed and these scenarios now occur infrequently.
Between 1996 and 2004 around 233,000 bass were stocked into a limited number of Gippsland waters and the crater lakes. Bass stocking recommenced in 2009 and since then around 780,000 have been stocked in Gippsland lakes and rivers including; the Snowy, Macalister, Avon, Mitchell, Tambo and Nicholson Rivers (and smaller streams). Blue Rock Lake and Lake Glenmaggie are our best lake bass fisheries. In some waters, it's taken more than 10 years for the results of stocking to transform into a quality recreational fishery.
This year, we are proposing to increase bass stocking in Gippsland river and lakes to more than 300,000.
Since 1996, more than a million bass have been stocked, mainly in the Gippsland lakes and rivers. After a 4 year hiatus, stocking recommenced in 2009 and has steadily increased to more than 100,000 each year. Were on track to stock a record 300,000 bass this summer.
Stocked estuary perch:
In 2010, Fisheries started an Australian first campaign for large-scale breeding and stocking of estuary perch in collaboration with a bass farmer in New South Wales and tournament anglers who collected the brood stock under the "Perch Search" program. Since then we have stocked over 500,000 estuary perch into 14 waterways. The best performing of these waters is Devilbend Reservoir, Struan Dam, Werribee River and Albert Park Lake and. Estuary perch over the legal size (27 cm) are now routinely caught in some of the earlier stocked waters. Estuary perch live for more than 40 years and can grow well over 50 cm. Here's one of the earlier stocked estuary perch that grew out to around 4 kg in a muddy carp pond near Pakenham.
Fisheries have stocked more than 500,000 estuary perch in 14 lakes since 2012. This 4kg specimen stocked ten years ago, shows the potential of these new fisheries.
Around the corner
With continued state government support, there are a host of other opportunities to further develop inland recreational fishers. We have plans to stock Rocklands Reservoir with Murray cod, golden perch and estuary perch, subject to the outcomes of a fish stocking risk assessment process. Rocklands Reservoir is one of the largest water storages in Victoria with vast amounts of flooded forest timber structure, a temperate / warm climate, water security and deep refuge pools (old river course). These features are ideally suited to the establishing a quality native fishery.
Rocklands Reservoir has the potential to become one of Victoria's best stocked native fisheries.
On reflection and after a concerted effort to improve native fisheries, over the last decade, here are some key lessons learned:
- Because most of our waterways are so modified, we can't expect our native fisheries to breed and recover without well informed fishery interventions, such as stocking and habitat restoration.
- Combining fish stocking with habitat works to achieve great synergy.
- Increased government support for recreational fishing, particularly in the last decade has accelerated efforts to recover existing and develop new fisheries.
- Victoria now offers a rich diversity of native fishing experiences and anglers are in for exciting times as these fisheries mature over the next decade.