THE Australian Conservation Foundation and the Murray-Darling Basin Recreational Fishing Council are calling on the Federal Government to establish a 10-year native fish action plan following the successful partnership model of the Native Fish Strategy.
ACF and the MDBRFC, representing different stakeholders and sections of the community, are concerned the popular Native Fish Strategy – which, during its ten years of operation, provided clear and wide-ranging benefits to native fish, river health and communities in the Murray-Darling Basin – will not continue beyond 2013 because state-based funding for the program has been cut back.
In the past century populations of native fish species in the Murray-Darling Basin have suffered serious decline, in distribution and abundance, while many invasive species have thrived due to a range of river health issues such as changed river flows, barriers to fish passage, loss of habitat and poor water quality.
Nine of the Basin's 35 native fish species are nationally "threatened", two are critically endangered and 16 are threatened under state jurisdictions. Native fish populations are at roughly 10 per cent of pre-European settlement levels. The health of native fish populations is a key indicator of river health in the Basin.
With a final Murray-Darling Basin Plan – to restore the necessary environmental flows back to the rivers of the Basin – due to be completed in this term of federal government, now is the time to strengthen programs that complement Basin rivers flow management and engage communities in looking after their rivers.
Even with native fish populations at risk, recreational fishing remains one of the most significant industries in the Murray-Darling Basin. $1.4 billion is sepnt on recreational fishing every year, providing almost 11,000 jobs. Many Murray-Darling native fish species are highly valued by communities, especially in regional areas.
Fish habitat restoration is accepted as a key method for restoring native fish populations; restoration already undertaken in the Murray-Darling Basin is showing results. This year, the International River Foundation's Australian 'Riverprize' was awarded to the Condamine Alliance of Queensland for its successful work in restoring native fish populations and river health. An action plan to increase native fish populations across the Murray-Darling Basin is needed now.
ACF and the MDBRFC is urging Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to commit to a 10-year Murray-Darling Fish Action plan that will: Operate across all Murray-Darling Basin jurisdictions; Build on already identified priority actions by State agencies and communities; Deliver outcomes in two five-year tranches with a review period after four years; Engage regional communities in delivering these actions and provide the knowledge to underpin the work that needs to be done.