The future for managing fishes in the Murray-Darling Basin, south-eastern Australia
Article first published online: 22 APR 2014
© 2014 The Authors. Ecological Management & Restoration published by Ecological Society of Australia and Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.
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Ecological Management & Restoration
Special Issue: The Native Fish Strategy: Bringing native fish back. Ecological Society of Australia and Wiley have published this supplement with financial support from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Department of Environment and Primary Industries (Vic) and NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries)
Volume 15, Issue Supplement s1, pages 1–2, March 2014
How to Cite
Koehn, J. D., Copeland, C. and Stamation, K. (2014), The future for managing fishes in the Murray-Darling Basin, south-eastern Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration, 15: 1–2. doi: 10.1111/emr.12098
- Issue published online: 22 APR 2014
- Article first published online: 22 APR 2014
There are few places in the world where concerns over the decline of freshwater ecosystems and their fishes are more apparent than in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), south-eastern Australia. The rivers of the MDB are in poor condition, and fish populations were estimated to be at 10% of pre-European levels (Murray-Darling Basin Commission 2004), with many species considered of conservation concern (Lintermans 2007). Issues regarding fish in the MDB are not new; concerns for popular commercial species such as Murray Cod were first documented over 100 years ago (Dannevig 1903), and by the late 1970s, threats to MDB fishes had been clearly identified (Cadwallader 1978). While early concerns were largely regarding commercial fisheries, the great importance of angling (Henry & Lyle 2003) and the associated socio-economic values and benefits to the recreational fishery of the MDB ($1.35 Billion direct expenditure per annum: Ernst & Young 2011), along with serious conservation concerns, are now paramount. By 2000, there was a growing sense of urgency to rehabilitate fish populations before it was too late, and this culminated in the development of the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) (Murray-Darling Basin Commission 2004), with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than just sustainable management. Such efforts were needed to protect and restore all fishes, including those key species targeted by recreational fishers.
In its first decade (2003–2013), the NFS fundamentally changed fish management in the MDB (Koehn & Lintermans 2012). This included major advances in research and management practices and advocating an overarching and achievable restoration goal to: rehabilitate native fish communities of the Basin back to 60% of their estimated pre-European levels after 50 years of implementation. This was reinforced by engagement of the community and recognition that this would take several decades to deliver. Some key achievements included the following:
- Development, testing and implementation of one of the world's largest fish passage programmes from Lake Hume to the Sea.
- Development of the award-winning Williams’ Carp Separation Cage, which separates over 80% of adult carp from native fish moving through fishways.
- Scoping the scale of water infrastructure impacts on native fish and, in close collaboration with the irrigation industry, researching methods to mitigate any impacts.
- Implementation of seven demonstration reaches covering almost 800 river kilometres.
While goals of the NFS remain, cessation of funding for the NFS programme after just 10 years appears short-sighted, particularly considering the plight of the fish and the NFS's achievements, and this has again left MDB fish populations in a vulnerable state.
The lessons learnt from the NFS have, however, only reinforced the importance of the need for coordinated, basin-wide, long-term solutions to fish recovery. Significantly, it has provided a solid basis from which to restart these efforts with any future programmes or provide guidance for similar programmes elsewhere. This special issue presents nine papers that provide a synthesis of a wide range of NFS projects (involving 35 different authors overall) and a full list of NFS projects, with links to project summaries (www.emrprojectsummaries.org). Importantly, each provides highlights, a legacy from the work undertaken and a way forward for future management.
The first paper provides an overview of the NFS, highlighting achievements, critical lessons learnt and how to progress fish management into the future (Koehn et al. 2014a).
Other papers provide more technical details on a particular management area including the following:
- Research and management advances in movements and fish passage arising from the NFS (including the Sea to Lake Hume programme; Baumgartner et al. 2014).
- A current understanding of fish–flow relationships and the implications for the use of environmental water and flow management in the MDB (Koehn et al. 2014b).
- Management of the threats from existing and potential alien fishes (Barrett et al. 2014).
- A review of the range of approaches taken by the NFS to protect native fishes under threat (Lintermans et al. 2014).
- Some examples of the tools needed to manage fisheries in a proper manner (Barwick et al. 2014b).
A key feature of the NFS was the need to bring along agencies and people through a cooperative approach (Barwick et al. 2014a). This is also described by the use of demonstration reaches (people and science) (Boys et al. 2014) and engagement of a range of stakeholders (Hames et al. 2014), including recreational fishers, in ‘bringing back native fish communities’ (Barwick et al. 2014b).
This collection of papers, together with project reports, project summaries and other information (www.projectsummaries.org; www.finterest.com.au/), provides a resource of up-to-date knowledge to be used for future fish management. The papers can be used in conjunction with other relevant resources relating to freshwater fishes in the MDB (e.g. Lintermans 2007; Koehn & Lintermans 2012; Barrett et al. 2013), in particular those on climate change (Koehn 2011 and papers therein), recovering threatened fishes (Lintermans 2013 and papers therein) and fish ecology (Humphries & Walker 2013).
The current focus of both national and state governments in the MDB is on the provision of environmental water to rivers. There are however, ecological risks associated with decisions around environmental flows and water management (Koehn et al. 2014b). More effective recovery of fish communities demands the inclusion of many of the other elements of river rehabilitation and community engagement that were so successfully pursued by the NFS (Koehn et al. 2014b). A new model for rehabilitation is needed to accompany these water reforms and provide complementary actions that will help rehabilitate fish populations (Koehn 2013). The support of key stakeholders from water, conservation, fisheries and land management areas, as well as the general public (both within and outside the MDB), is essential to create sustainable partnerships in managing our rivers. It is hoped that the papers, project summaries and links to other information provided in this special edition assist with improved management and, more importantly, the recovery of fishes in the MDB.
The editors of this special edition firstly wish to thank all those who have supported the Native Fish Strategy; the dedication to this cause has been truly inspirational and has left an undeniably positive legacy in which all who took part should be proud. Enormous thanks to the many lead and co-authors to Matt Barwick for coordinating the project summaries, to all the reviewers and to Tein McDonald for editorial assistance and guidance, and to the MDBA for funding the production of this issue. We also acknowledge the support of DEPI (VIC) and Fisheries (NSW) in the preparation of this special edition. Comments on a draft of this paper were kindly provided by Fern Hames.
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