Comment: An opportunity lost in the Murray-Darling Basin

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OzFish founder and CEO Craig Copeland

SPECULATION that the proposed changes in the northern part of the Murray-Darling Basin would be bad for the environment has generated stories that fall short of explaining the full picture for recreational anglers and our native fish.

Last week the Senate rejected the Federal Government’s changes to the Basin Plan that would have reduced the amount of water returned to the environment by 70 gigalitres in southern QLD and northern NSW. The proposed change formed part of the Northern Basin Review which was finalised in 2016 after a four-year science and socio-economic analysis.

So what has been missed?

The measures which were voted down by the Senate, would have seen water, already purchased for the environment, further protected all the way through the Northern Basin allowing more of these flows to reach Menindee Lakes and the lower Darling. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be spent on restoring fish habitat - and in my view these two decisions should be the “biggest news story” for fish and fishing since European settlement!

It was going to address many of the barriers such as dams and weirs that stop our fish from moving up and down the rivers, it was going to work with the irrigation community to put screens on pumps to stop millions of fish going up pipes - and it was going to address the freezing water that comes out of the bottom of dams in summer stopping fish breeding, feeding (or even living!) and people swimming!

These projects were going to be huge job creators!

Our Basin communities need healthy fish populations. Because it means that over 10,000 people will keep their jobs, it means this billion-dollar industry has a future and can continue to support regional economies….and, it also means that one of our most important social and cultural activities in our nation’s food-bowl will continue to be available to every Aussie to engage with and enjoy.

It’s also important to note that the measures proposed would have protected planned environmental flows ALL the way down the system. This includes filling Menindee Lakes; a nursery for our natives, which replenishes hundreds of kilometres downstream with tomorrow’s fish, and a sacred place to those who understand its true value to our fish and sport. Menindee is heralded as one of the most productive fish nursery areas in the Basin for species like Yellowbelly – and it is in particular, a haven that drives this species into southern NSW and Victorian fisheries.

When I founded OzFish Unlimited I did it to help all Australians, whether they fish or not, to take comfort in knowing that there is an army of recreational fishos out there that will never stop working to secure the future of our sport for generations to come.

In the instance of the Murray-Darling Basin, we have a growing and dedicated family of OzFish volunteers who are temporarily putting down their rods to do whatever they can to help restore river health for our native fish like the iconic Murray Cod, Yellowbelly and numerous others that are now endangered like Silver Perch.

Our core business at OzFish is to protect and restore fish habitat. But another thing we are good at is finding solutions – and that usually begins with a conversation; which I believe needs to happen now for our native fish before we see this important initiative fall over.

I can tell you this for free....the recreational fishos that I work with in the Basin communities won’t give up on caring for their rivers. Another good news story that we all need to hear right now! They come from all walks of life – some are farmers, others are small business owners - all of whom are fiercely passionate about nurturing our native fish and protecting the health of their local rivers.

So in a nutshell, the changes that were knocked back by the Senate had the potential to be a defining and positive moment in history for native fish in the Northern Basin. It would have delivered environmental flows all the way to Menindee lakes and the lower Darling, create more jobs and open the door for the Basin rec’ fishing community to work even closer with irrigators.

After talking to fishos in recent days, the potential for fish to get a good deal if the recommendations were adopted was news to them. In my view, that’s a strong indication that improved communication and engagement with government is critical for anglers and all those invested in the future of our native fish.

A coordinated path that suits all stakeholders is genuinely possible and it’s time our native fish, our fishing community along with every Aussie that benefits from this sport, is given some level of consideration. Maybe with a bit more understanding of what could be gained we could get everybody on board.

Why not join OzFish and help our rivers? To find out more about what many other Aussie anglers are doing, head to www.ozfish.org.au

 

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