The importance of this Recovery Reach
The Lower Darling River is significant for native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin. Iconic species such as Golden perch, Murray cod, Silver perch and Freshwater catfish, as well as a number of important small-bodied native fish species, live in this special river. The Darling River supports the breeding and recruitment (growth and survival) of fish, with Golden perch adults, for example, spawning upstream so that larvae and young fish drift downstream. As they drift they grow, so by the time they reach the Menindee Lakes, there are juveniles and adults able to repopulate, both in an upstream and downstream direction. Recent science demonstrates that Golden perch in the Murray system (from Echuca down to the Lower Lakes in South Australia) are often those that began life in the Darling River.
The Lower Darling River Murray cod population is particularly important for the recovery of adjacent populations in the mid and lower Murray River system that in recent years, have suffered severe declines with blackwater fish deaths across thousands of river kilometres.
Recovering the Lower Darling
NSW Department of Primary Industry, in collaboration with other State and Commonwealth agencies and organisations, are now looking at management actions to protect and recover native fish populations. These actions include:
- Water quality and fish monitoring
- Creation of artificially aerated refuge areas in the Lower Darling
- Relocation of fish from diminishing pools to better quality waterbodies
What has been done
- Restocking – So far Fisheries have re-stocked Murray cod and Golden perch bred from adults ‘rescued’ and relocated to the Narrandera Hatchery back in 2019. School groups, land owners, TO’s and interested local community were invited to releases at Pooncarie and Menindee (December 2020 and March 2021). Silver perch will eventually also be re-stocked.
- River Rangers Water Quality Monitoring – We are working with the Menindee-based Barkandji River Rangers to monitor water quality as the 2021 inflows reach Menindee, and subsequent releases to the Lower Darling to manage potential risks to fish.
- Contribution to environmental fish flow delivery and monitoring for the Lower Darling in spring-summer 2020/21 and now again for later in 2021. including ensuring community are engaged in the planning to develop stakeholder understanding of objectives and outcomes.
OUTCOME – good spawning by surviving Murray Cod in spring 2020 and evidence suggests subsequent recruitment; dispersal of juvenile Golden perch from Lakes to Lower Darling following spawning and downstream dispersal to Menindee Lakes in 2020 and again in 2021.
- Ongoing contribution to development and planning for a potential Menindee Hatchery .
- Fish in schools – have secured aquariums for Menindee/Pooncarie primary schools, and awaiting Rainbowfish to house in them which the students will nurture.
- Round 1 of fish community sampling occurred within the Fish Death Reach and a Control Reach in June 2019. The primary objectives of this sampling were to: 1) examine the status of the remnant fish population, and; 2) investigate the impact of the 2018/19 fish deaths on the fish community with comparison against an unaffected river reach.
- To monitor short-term change in the fish community post the fish death event, a second round of fish community sampling was conducted within the Fish Death Reach in October 2019. The second round of sampling was not conducted within the Control Reach as monitoring results would have been confounded by the removal of fish during fish rescues.
- Preliminary analyses indicate a positive short-term change in the fish community between July and October 2019 after the fish death events.
- Continued significant decline was observed in Australian smelt and common carp. However short term recovery was observed in the abundances of carp gudgeon and freshwater prawn; two short-lived, opportunistic, non-flow dependent recruiters.
- Increasing restocking efforts
- Improving fish passage through the region
- Rehabilitating aquatic habitat at priority reaches of the river
- Working with other state and federal agencies
- Engaging and building capacity with local communities, to deliver further management actions to support the movement, breeding and recruitment of native fish
Working with community:
There will be a number of activities with key stakeholders relationships in the Lower Darling region to provide on-ground coordination and information sharing across fisheries-related activities:
Iain had an information stand in conjunction with the MDBA and DPI Fisheries Fish Care at the Pooncarie “Ballads on the Baaka” (in March 2021). May have even played a few songs!
A community workshop was held in Menindee in late November 2019 to kick off on-ground engagement. It is hoped that more events like this one will provide a channel for more effective public engagement and local knowledge to be incorporated into research activities. It will also assist researchers and managers to dispel misinformation associated with particular topics and addressing wider community issues/concerns.
A citizen science project involving local people, including anglers and Aboriginal community members, will enable changes in the fish community to be tracked through time by locals. This will need cross-collaboration between researchers and scientists, which should boost understanding of fish and flow relationships, as well as ecological processes such as hydraulic variability, thermal stratification and oxygen depletion (linking to our aeration efforts to mitigate hypoxia in 2019-20).
Training in the use of monitoring equipment and data collection through photo-point monitoring will be provided so that community members can create photo point time series, or use photo diaries to document changes in their river, ideally pre and post drought recovery. Water quality units will also be made available for use by community members so that water quality data relating to assessing the effectiveness of aeration units Fisheries and the MDBA have installed in 2019-20 can be gathered.
A Recreational Fishing Database for the Lower Darling will be established so that anglers can contribute historic and contemporary catch records to inform our understanding of fish populations over time. This will involve the handing out of catch record sheets for completion by recreational fisherman, with data then sent to Fisheries officers for inclusion in the database. Simple results from period data interrogation will be disseminated back to the anglers themselves.
A “Fish, Flows and Cultural outcomes for the Lower Darling River “program will also be established so that Aboriginal voices are heard in water management activities and decision making. This will involve working with local Barkindji representatives so that they can inform future water management activities and decision making. This program is intended to align with the development of a “Healthy Country Program” by the Barkandji Native Title Group Aboriginal Corporation.
Meet the coordinator: Iain Ellis
Iain has worked on the biology and ecology of native fish for over fifteen years with particular focus on the conservation of threatened species, and adaptive management to preserve and recover native fish habitat.
The Native Fish Recovery Strategy
The Native Fish Recovery Strategy will supplement and build on existing knowledge, generated under the previous native fish strategy and will be implemented collaboratively with Basin state governments, First Nations and the wider community. It’s development will be delivered concurrently with the implementation of high-priority implementation activities including the Lower Darling Fish Monitoring and Engagement program and the Native fish emergency response plan.