Calls to stop inter-valley water transfers from Goulburn River

By Liz Mellino

There are renewed calls to stop inter-valley water transfers from the Goulburn River during summer, with claims it is ruining our recreational fishery and damaging the river ecosystem.

With nearly a third of all Victorian inland recreational fishing occurring in the Goulburn River catchment, recreational fishers claim unseasonably high water flows and cold water pollution are playing havoc with native fish.

Australian Fishing Traders Association board member Steven Threlfall said the transferring of water downstream to users on the Murray River and in South Australia was destroying the river banks and the vegetation these fish need to survive.

While water temperatures generally rise during summer creating a calm, warm and productive environment for fish to grow, Mr Threlfall said IVTs were dropping this temperature and speeding up the river flow.

“The temperature doesn't help fish breeding and doesn't help the young smaller fish that we actually put in the rivers; as far as stocking systems go, it doesn't give them the right conditions to grow out. It's too cold for any breeding,” he said.

Mr Threlfall said his concerns were shared by many recreational fishers around the region, with these thoughts mirrored in a letter sent to Water Minister David Littleproud this week by Rob Loats, chair of the Victorian Recreational Fishing Peak Body.

In the letter, which was seen by The News, Mr Loats said recreational fishers were "angry", saying they along with catchment managers and fisheries managers had spent decades investing in improving native fish populations in the lower Goulburn River.

“(IVTs) play havoc with our native fish's natural time clock, impacting growth, survival recruitment success and catchability,” Mr Loats wrote.

“IVTs are causing erosion of the lower bank and the loss of trees and vegetation — this damage to the critical river habitat will have significant ramifications for the health and abundance of our native fish now and in the long term.”

Recreational fishing is now worth $7.1 billion in Victoria with 838 000 people currently taking part.

Goulburn Valley Environment Group president John Pettigrew said continual IVTs were posing real threats to the Goulburn River and had been for more than a decade.

“(It is) getting worse, the flows are getting higher and the trend is going upwards — more water is being transferred downstream for irrigation,” he said.

“Summer flows are impacting the good work being done in the banks, with vegetation growth being promoted by environmental flows during the later winter and spring period . . . the ecology of the Goulburn River in many ways is being drowned out by these unnaturally high flows.”

While it is conceded the flows impact the environment and recreational fishers, Mr Threlfall and Mr Pettigrew agreed the transfers also had a flow-on effect on the community: high flows affected accessibility to sand bars along the riverbank and visitation levels were impacted, which then impacted small businesses.

“There are very few sand bars showing; they have been used by local communities for thousands of years — those sand bars are barely visible and most are inaccessible to families,” Mr Pettigrew said.