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Is fish stocking a consumptive use of water?
  |  First Published: March 2006



There is no doubt that recreational freshwater fishing has boomed over the past 20 years, and dramatically over the last 10. The fishery has been created by the joint arrangement between the State Government and the community. The Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program (RFEP) has been the catalyst for this success. The introduction of the Stocked Impoundment Permit (SIP) has also contributed to the establishment of these very productive fisheries.

The major stocking projects in recent years have been focused on the larger impoundments, particularly in areas of high human population. Most of these storages are also supplemented by SIP funding. These storages are mainly owned by State Government Agencies (SunWater) and Local Authorities (Councils). Usage of water from these storages is mainly irrigation and town water supplies.

It is difficult to dispute the fact that when these storages were constructed, it was generally accepted that the main (maybe sole) purpose of the dams was to provide water for irrigation and urban supplies. However, it must also be accepted that these water storage facilities were paid for by the public from consolidated revenue. The storages were certainly not paid for solely by the likes of the irrigation industry.

In times of drought, many storages are drawn down to low water levels. Of course, when these levels become critically low, the survival of fish in these storages is threatened severely. The Agencies have an operating licence to draw water levels down to what is known as dead storage levels. These levels are so low that it’s highly unlikely that any fish life will survive. The fatalities would also include indigenous species and stocked species.

FFSAQ, during recent years, have attempted to have the dead storage levels raised to ensure the likelihood of fish survival in dry times. The Agencies claim that if dead storage levels were raised, this effectively means that less water can be allocated to their customers. The Agencies continue to argue that any reduction in client allocations will prompt legal challenges that cannot be defended. Instead of having the dead storage level raised, the Agencies are suggesting that fish stocking groups consider purchasing an allocation via the open market, and then retain the water in the storage. This suggestion is totally out of the question as no stocking group could afford the cost. The Agencies believe that any water allocated to fish stocking should be seen as a consumptive use of water. FFSAQ does not accept this view.

As stated earlier, these storages were constructed with funds from the public purse. Even though, in the early days, recreational fishing may not have been a common use of these storages, but today it certainly is. These storages should now be recognized as multi-use facilities, and be managed accordingly. The likes of SunWater may not have the ability to amend their operational arrangements, but the Queensland Government certainly can.

The Government has the option to allocate water to the likes of recreational fishing when adopting its Water Resource Plans. The Government can balance the economic, social, and environmental aspects of water use, but continually choses not to recognize recreational fishing. This is difficult to understand because the Government is a joint player in the Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program. How the Government can enhance a cause on one hand and potentially destroy it on the other is confusing.

It has been difficult to determine the real economic value, in monetary terms, derived from these impoundments via consumptive use. The values always appear to be shrouded in a maze of accounting reports that are almost impossible to interpret. However, there are reports that clearly identify the social and economic benefit to regional areas as an off-shoot of recreational fishing. Even without accurate figures to compare, the recreational and social benefit derived from stocking and subsequent fishing at these storages, must surely make it a contender for acceptance as a ‘non’ consumptive use.

From a Government survey of recreational fishing undertaken in 2004, some 733,000 members of the public (20% of the population) fish annually in Queensland. Of these 30% fished freshwater, and 66,000 fished in stocked impoundments. In 2002-03, a study was conducted by the Central Queensland University in conjunction with DPI Fisheries. The results show that some $4.63M value is derived from Boondooma Dam in South East Queensland. As there are at least 10 other impoundments similar to Boondooma across Queensland, the total benefit is considerable.

Without having reported figures for the economic value derived from consumptive industries, it is not appropriate to challenge comparable values. However, it will be surprising if the fishing value does not show up as a significant economic contributor to the areas well being.

It’s been suggested that the figures will indicate that it’s about time that the Government recognizes these public storages as multi-use facilities, and not solely as industry consumptive use. The Government will argue that the storages are no longer in public ownership. That is they are now owned and operated by corporate entities such as SunWater. But who owns SunWater? The Government. And who owns the Government? The public. So there is no validity in evading the issue. If the Government has the will, it certainly has the avenues to act in a much fairer way when allocating water from these storages.

The current Government position is that retaining water in storages for fish survival is a consumptive use. I don’t agree with this, but what do you think? -Les Kowitz, FFSAQ.

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