Translocation turmoil
  |  First Published: December 2003

The Recreational Fishing Enhancement Program (RFEP), which is administered by Queensland Fisheries Service (QFS) to oversee fingerling stocking into impoundments and rivers, has been an outstanding success. Translocation has been a significant factor in this success; without it, the opportunities available to freshwater anglers would be very limited. The program commenced in 1986 and so has stood the test of time… or has it?

The first official translocation, under the RFEP at least, was undertaken 17 years ago. It’s believed that Fisheries moved fish around well before this, but would now probably deny such activity. Even with the control of the RFEP, fish stocking and translocation in the early days was very much carried out on an ad hoc basis. It wasn’t until roughly 10 years ago that a sub-committee of the Freshwater Management Advisory Committee was formed to administer all stockings and translocations in Queensland. A set of protocols was drafted to assist in the decision making process. FFSAQ agrees with its protocols and is a participatory member of the sub-committee.

It was around this time that some aspects of the stocking program began to be questioned. It was just as well that the concept of stocking for recreational fishing purposes was by then well entrenched, and had become enormously successful. I shudder to think to what history would record if they had contemplated such a move today!

That’s not to say that fish stocking and translocation should be undertaken with total disregard to our environment. It must be carried out in a responsible manner that provides community benefit, in the form of fishing opportunities, with as little impact as possible on our ecosystems.

However, most of the stocking and translocations take place in dams and weirs, both of which dramatically alter the natural environment. The impact of stocking compared to the infrastructure of huge dams is a small player indeed – particularly when you consider that most translocated species can’t breed in impoundments or regulated river systems. Another argument in favour of stocking is that exotic pest fishes are far more likely, and have already done so, to devastate our waterways than any translocated native species.

It is recognized, however, that stocking a river needs different criteria from those you’d use when stocking an impoundment. Rivers that are regulated (have dams and weirs constructed) in only a minor way, and still have much of their length relatively natural, deserve differing protocols. Retaining biodiversity must be balanced with community benefit. Rivers that aren’t regulated and are in pristine condition – and there are still a few left in Queensland – should be classified as ‘wild’ and left in peace.

These days the stocking program is being questioned more often. Some of what’s being purported is acceptable and just responsible, but other people want to curtail stocking entirely on the premise that it damages the environment.

In recent years the effects of stocking and translocation have been on the agenda at a number of freshwater forums, including The Draft Native Fish Strategy for the Murray-Darling Basin 2002-2012, Managing Fish Translocation and Stocking in the Murray-Darling Basin, and Fish Stocking and the Distribution and Potential Impact of Translocated Fishes in Streams of the Wet Tropics Region of North Queensland. All of these papers indicate concern over the practice of fish stocking and advocate the use of the ‘precautionary principle’ approach. Taken as an extreme definition, as is being espoused by some, would mean that no stocking at all would be allowed. This is a ludicrous interpretation and not realistic. Precaution is an important factor but must be considered sensibly.

I am optimistic in the belief that fish stocking and translocation will continue in Queensland. There may well be some changes to the practice but these shouldn’t significantly impact on the program that creates fantastic recreational freshwater fisheries. The social benefit to all anglers, as well as the economic boost to local and rural communities, can’t be underestimated and discarded. Queensland Tourism has recently recognized fish stocking in impoundments as a sustainable enterprise and is now promoting this fishery in its tourist promotion.

However, we must be ever vigilant and be aware of the moves that some purists are proposing. Whenever you are confronted with this issue be responsible in your approach, but be sure to emphasize the significant benefit that the practice of fish stocking brings to our community.

Remember – fishing as you know it today may depend on it.

Les Kowitz

President, FFSAQ Inc.

1) The author with a translocated barramundi from Teemburra Dam.

TITLE: Brisbane Valley Anglers Fishstocking Association

Brisbane Valley Anglers Fishstocking Association Inc. (BVA), was founded some 20 years ago by a group of anglers who were keen to promote freshwater fishing as a recreational activity in the catchment area of the Brisbane River.

BVA has authority to stock Australian bass and the endangered Mary River cod in the Brisbane River from the Mt Crosby Weir upstream to the Wivenhoe Dam wall – a distance of about 67km. Bass were once plentiful in the river but their numbers have dramatically declined. This is partly due to habitat loss but mainly because they can’t access saltwater or brackish water to breed, as their spawning run is interrupted by the Mt Crosby Weir. BVA is currently working with the Brisbane City Council in an endeavour to upgrade the current fish ‘ladder’ at the weir. While devices of this type work well for fish such as salmon, which leap high into the air to return to their spawning grounds, they aren’t suitable for Australian native fish such as bass. Upgrading the fish ladder to a suitable fishway would ensure the survival of the ‘wild’ native fish stocks, allowing them to breed and become self-sustaining.

A healthy population of Australian bass, which is an aggressive predator and world-recognized sportfish, would not only benefit the recreational fisher but should help control pest fish and maintain balance between species – something that’s necessary for the ecological stability of the river.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that while the Mary River cod once existed in the Brisbane River, the last reported capture or sighting was early in the last century. BVA stocks Mary River cod into the river, and because these magnificent fish (a cousin of the threatened Murray Cod) are able to breed without access to saltwater it’s hoped that they’ll successfully recolonise the river. While it’s illegal to target Mary River cod in the Mary River catchment, anglers may target them in the Brisbane River. However, because the river is not an impoundment, any cod that are caught should be released carefully back into the river.

While BVA’s main aim is fish stocking, it is a family oriented club with regular trips where everyone can participate. Members also participate in fishing competitions and sportfishing events. The club is affiliated with ANSA (Australian National Sportfishing Association) and is a member of FFSAQ (Freshwater Fishing and Stocking Association of Queensland). Many members have distinguished themselves in competitions and through their tagging efforts. Fish tagging provides valuable information for ongoing research done by fisheries scientists.

BVA also supports angler education and has run successful junior angler education camps at Moogerah Dam, supported by Sunfish. BVA is grateful for all the donations and support of its sponsors in the tackle industry.

New members are always welcome. Please contact BVA Secretary Joe Legrady on (07) 3376 2560 or visit www.ansaqld.com.au/~valleysfc. - BVA

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