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Improving waterways to aid fish movement

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March 30, 2018

A Murray cod is trapped for monitoring as part of the Fishways Project.

Good Friday isn’t usually a highlight of the fish calendar, but for native fish in the lower Loddon River, today is a day worth celebrating.

Picture yourself getting in your car to drive to the supermarket.

You go down the driveway, turn left at the corner and immediately crash into a brick wall built across the road.

You look behind you and see other people who are also stuck.

Like you, some are going to do their shopping, others are trying to get to their boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s house.

You can’t get around the wall, and there aren’t any other roads to access.

You’re trapped. You can go home, but sooner or later you’re going to start getting hungry.

Welcome to the world of being a native fish in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Irrigation and river regulation has trapped fish between regulators, weirs and dams. They can’t get to their preferred breeding grounds and, while they can smell food in reservoirs and other rivers, they can’t get through.

The North Central Catchment Management Authority has been working with Goulburn Murray Water to build a series of fishways at weirs and regulators, to help fish get to where they need to go.

Two new fishways on the Loddon River at Canary Island and Box Creek at Kow Swamp have opened up hundreds of kilometres of feeding and breeding grounds to some of Australia’s most vulnerable native fish.

‘‘For fish, movement is vital for survival,’’ North Central CMA Environmental Water manager Louissa Rogers said.

‘‘Before European occupation, fish knew when it was time to breed. The river would flow, and they would smell the food, moving to safe breeding grounds in the river and on the floodplain in wetlands.

‘‘Regulation has turned all that upside down, and even when the rivers do flow, fish can’t move upstream to where they want to go.’’

But the infrastructure is only part of the solution.

‘‘We can build all the fishways we want, but the fish have to be encouraged to move, and to move safely,’’ Ms Rogers said.

‘‘Our Native Fish Recovery Plan is working to install snags in rivers and creeks to give them safe places to rest and feed, and we are fencing off and revegetating waterways to help with food for the fish.’’

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