To stock or not to stock?
  |  First Published: July 2010

In times when recreational fishing and all activities associated with it are constantly being scrutinized and regulations tightened to preserve and maintain fish stocks it stands to reason that a simple idea of stocking salt water estuaries with the more common fish varieties to enhance species numbers is an idea that deserves to be looked at on its entire merits.

Let’s face it, all we ever hear these days is more methods in which to strangle recreational fishing and most of these ideas are generated by government officials that have lost touch with real peoples values making policy based on science that has nothing to do with the areas that are being threatened by these policies.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting and talking to the committee and members of the Toorbul Fish Stocking Association based in a beautiful part of the Pumicestone Passage on the Sunshine Coast. This small community along with many other clubs and Associations are suggesting that we should be able to stock common fish varieties such as bream, whiting and flathead in and around their local area. The club was formed in 2003 with the sole purpose of raising money to fund this type of fish stocking and since the day they had enough money to start, the Club and its members have hit strong opposition from government departments and officials including the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPI&F).

Fish stocking in Australian freshwater dams is nothing new in Australia and in many cases without the tremendous financial assistance and time provided by various Departments, Clubs, Associations and volunteers we would not enjoy this style of fishing to the levels we do today. Years of research has assisted in the health, breeding, development and releasing of freshwater fish varieties and the same can be said for some saltwater species as well.DPI Queensland Fisheries Group

researchers have been working since 1992, with the objective of developing hatchery technology to produce fingerlings for stocking to enhance recreational fisheries. In 1994 fingerling production for the Maroochy estuary fish-stocking program targeted both dusky flathead and sand whiting finding that they had many desirable traits for production and use for stocking. The science both overseas and within Australia has come a long way since then but the DPI&F list the following as possible negative impacts that may occur if introducing stock to an open river water system such as the Pumicestone Passage:

Introduce a disease or parasites that did not previously exist in the waterway.

Displacement of existing species.

Reduced generic viability in the local population which can reduce the ability of the population to survive environmental changes.

Further to the argument against stocking open river systems it is suggested that this practice can be cost prohibited and difficult to monitor any success rates if in fact there is a need to stock at all. “The natural environmental viability of the Pumicestone Passage is so great that the number of fingerlings required to boost the populations by a quantifiable amount would probably be ineffective” says Tim Mulherin MP (2006) the minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries.

The minister also acknowledges that the science needs to be improved before any stocking should occur and there is a formal process or decision making protocol that needs to be completed on each and every application to ensure the right questions are asked and a decision is made using consistent principles.

Over the years you may have caught a fish with some sort of deformity either stunted fins or depressions on the body and most of those are known as saddleback deformities. Saddleback deformities have been in the news recently affecting different species in estuaries on the Sunshine Coast and possible causes along with others, identify chemical contamination within the estuary leading to abnormal development of post larval fish as a likely cause. This of course is still under a lot of investigation both in Australia and more recently in Biscayne Bay in Florida USA.

So what is the bottom line on this subject?

Fishing Clubs and Associations are being bombarded with changes to rules and regulations and loss of fishing areas to over zealous zoning regulations all portraying that our fish stocks and areas are in danger and in need of protection for the future. We all know that stocks are nothing like they were even 10 years ago and that we fish harder and smarter than we ever had in the past to get a feed. Most fishing clubs that I have been a part off have tried in vain for years to see stronger limits put on some estuary species to stop the decline and on certain species don’t believe regulators have gone far enough. Is this an omission from the government that they believe certain estuary species are not in any real trouble?

So if the majority of Clubs and Associations join the cause to stock their local area then surely numbers can make a huge difference in any restocking program. The DPI&F as part of the government have made a lot of changes to fishing regulations based on questionable science and on a lot of occasions being more politically motivated than scientific fact.

Could the solution be as simple as “getting the science up to speed” and allow organisations like the Toorbul Fishing Stocking Association and many others to enhance our fish population for the future. While their club and members remain frustrated by trying to do the right thing, there just seems to be no answer for them except to be run around by political red tape.

Of course we have to mention that all this aquaculture will have to be paid for by someone and we all know who that will be don’t we? Still, we all talk about leaving our fisheries in good condition so that our children’s children can enjoy this wonderful sport, with this in mind surely this idea could be made to work.

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