Manic Monday - Making it Better

The Australian mainland trout fishery, particularly in NSW, has attracted some fairly robust discussions by anglers, stakeholders with NSW DPI management and NSW Ministers in recent years. There has been a significant decrease, particularly evident in the rainbow trout fishery over the last 10 years in the NSW Snowy Mountains.

On a broader geographical level, there has also been a decline in the trout fishery across NSW. Places like the New England, North West Slopes and the Bathurst regions have really suffered, largely from devastating droughts. But as to why the Snowy Mountains rainbow trout populations are seemingly in decline, we just don’t have the answers.

There are a lot of ideas surrounding the decline of rainbows in Jindabyne and Eucumbene lakes, which also account to two of Australia’s best mainland river systems for spawn run trout, but there are no ‘actuals,’ or facts for the decline. This is simply because there has been very little research conducted by NSW DPI over the last 10 years on the Snowy Mountains trout fishery.

With a significant economic decline in fishery tourism, a voluntary advocacy group, represented by Snowy Mountain stakeholders and anglers started working hard with NSW DPI to formulate some answers. This lead to a broader NSW Trout Strategy engagement hosted by NSW DPI with a primary objective to focus resources and new energy into our NSW trout fishery.

With some water under the bridge now, we are making some very positive headway for our fishery. NSW DPI have committed to ongoing research that include monitoring fish migrations during spawn run periods, sophisticated tagging programs, through to sonar imagery research on the main lakes and rivers and their catchments.

Not to be ‘glass-half empty,’ many would like to see more resources invested into to this process and we will continue to advocate for more citizen science and increase the fourteen days of dedicated research a year to something that may present improved data gathering opportunities.

With a somewhat up-and-down history, we are making some headway and there have been some very exciting announcements in recent weeks for our region and fishery.

John Barilaro, Deputy Premier of NSW announced that Gaden Hatchery, Jindabyne would receive a $3.3-million-dollar upgrade to increase fish production and the tourism experience at the facility.

In addition, the Monaro Acclimatisation Society Inc. (MAS), the main stocking organization in the Snowy Mountains and Monaro have successfully negotiated a $5-million-dollar recreational fishing off-set with Snowy Hydro as a port of the Snowy Hydro 2.0 project.

When Snowy 2.0 was announced by Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull (acting Prime Minister at the time), the fishing community became concerned that the Redfin Perch pest species would be pumped from Talbingo Dam into Tantangara Dam, which so far is Redfin free. Redfin are a Class 1 noxious fish in NSW.

The MAS acted quickly and commenced a very strong argument that exhibited concern that Redfin would then spread from Tantangara Dam into the Redfin free waters of the upper Murrumbidgee River and Lake Eucumbene.

Various scientific studies have identified that Redfin Perch have the capacity to degrade a trout fishery within a short time due to their ability to prey on smaller and newly hatched trout. Because rainbow trout only live for about three years in Australia, the fishery can decline quickly if there is no recruitment. Stocking the usual smaller fry or fingerling trout is ineffective as they are just the right size for Redfin to prey on.

Negotiations with Snowy Hydro culminated in the MAS recreational fishing offset comprising of a trout grow-out facility being included in the Environmental Impact Statement for Snowy Hydro 2.0. This facility is designed to grow a significant number of trout up to 200 mm or yearling size. At this size they are too big for the majority of Redfin to prey on.

During the last week, the Snowy Hydro Main Works Assessment Report was released with a requirement that Snowy Hydro would invest $5 million over 5 years for the construction of a salmonid grow-out facility which will allow for the stocking of larger trout.

While these negotiations have been between the MAS and Snowy Hydro the concept has now been developed to a point where the MAS is seeking co-operation from NSW Fisheries to help progress the project. The MAS has always approached this project on the basis that it is developed within the Snowy Region and operated as an annex to the Gaden Trout Hatchery.

In addition to the fantastic news noted above, Snowy Mountain anglers have continued to be working hard with the Gaden Hatchery team. We have just conducted a fish release of 10,000 yearling rainbow trout into strategic points across Lake Jindabyne. Trout that have been grown out in warmer water, enabling the trout metabolise into larger fish, increasing survival rates.

We are so lucky to have the Gaden Hatchery team working in our industry. Every employee at this facility, from Compliance Officers to staff in the hatchery are 100% committed to our fishery and the betterment of it. Anglers and Gaden staff have a very strong and constructive relationship.

So as we enter into the last week of stream fishing for trout on declared trout waters on mainland Australia, we can be assured there is a group of us working really hard behind the scenes to ensure our fishery grows back into the fishery it once was. There are a lot of promising signs demonstrated by NSW DPI management with the magnify glass focusing back on the fishery. There is also a growing empathy to manage our fishery appropriately and returned to its former glory. And I am really grateful for that!

Moving ahead, there is no sense in rattling the cages at the top of management and ministerial levels anymore. We are moving forwards on the fishery and so is the NSW DPI management relationship with anglers and stakeholders. Positive and constructive relationships at all levels is a key to effective partnerships that make a difference for the ‘here-and-now’ and those generations beyond us… and that is what it’s all about.