The Ovens River, from riches to rags
The Ovens River system was once a magnificent upland waterway rich with native fish. From its junction with the Murray River at Bundalong all the way up to Harrietville, the Ovens River was teeming with native fish.
The river was rich with with Murray cod, trout cod, an odd yellowbelly and a few Macquarie perch as well as other smaller, lesser recognised native fish.
During the early 1900's the Ovens River system suffered from enormous fishing pressure from recreational and commercial anglers, as well as recreational anglers that operated the same way as commercial anglers.
By the time the great depression hit during the 1920's, every man and his dog was taking fish from the river to feed their family, to the point that fish numbers declined dramatically.
After the depression, the financial situation had improved but those old fishing methods and mentalities remained in place for decades. Even right up into the early 1990s set lines, drum nets, gill nets etc… were employed to try and ensure that we removed every last fish!
By the 1980's when I was a kid the Ovens River was a carp and redfin infested waterway with murky water, damaged fish habitat and very few native fish. At that time, we were lucky to catch 1 or 2 Murray cod per year. Things were really dire.
The early 1990's brought with them some dramatic changes to fisheries management, fisheries research, environmental care and angler mentality.
An initial stocking of Murray cod, combined with the reintroduction of a size limit was all that was required to see this species once again infiltrate the river.
Throughout the early 1990's yellowbelly were stocked into the river en mass. With all of these Murray cod and yellowbelly, the redfin population became almost obsolete almost overnight.
After the yellowbelly stocking discontinued in the mid 1990's, Victorian fisheries stocked thousands of the endangered trout cod into the Ovens River to try and re-establish the species after it had become totally extinct from the Ovens River system in the early 1980's.
This was very successful, and we now have self sustaining populations of both Murray cod and trout cod in the Ovens River which are quite easy to catch, particularly the small ones.
These days, anybody can catch a native fish in the Ovens River and now with the focus being on habitat restoration and the re-introduction of Macquarie perch into the Ovens River system things have never looked better. The Ovens River has gone from riches to rags, and now back to riches once again.