A sad end for Victoria’s barramundi


IN this month’s Environment News John Newbery discusses the Hazelwood Pondage barramundi fishery and questions whether or not it was a successful experiment.

BETWEEN February 2015 and July 2016, we ran around five pieces on the successful stocking and encouraging growth rates of barramundi introduced into Victoria’s Hazelwood pondage, with the water kept warm enough for the barras’ successful survival through the operation of the Hazelwood power station. Some fish had grown from 33cm to over 6kg, and Fisheries Victoria were encouraged by their sampling to open the fishery to Victorian anglers on December 9th, 2016.

Well, sort of open. The chance to catch barra without having to travel way north was clearly appealing, so Fisheries Victoria devised a ballot system anglers wanting to gain access. Over 14,000 people registered. There were lots of rules, regulations and restrictions on fishing the pondage – about four and a half pages worth – and initial efforts weren’t all that successful due to cold and windy conditions. The Latrobe Valley is not exactly Melville Island…

But then the crunch came, both for the fish and the fishery. As planned and presumably known all along, the aged Hazelwood brown coal-fired power station closed in March 2017. No more warm water discharge, and presumably no more healthy, happy barra, which typically thrive in water from around 24 to 30 degrees celcius. At around 20 degrees you get problems with food intake and growth rates. With consistent temperatures below that it’s time to say, “so long barra”.

The bag and possession limits for Hazelwood barra were set at one fish per person per day, for the lucky ballot winners, to “ensure the barramundi resource is maintained and shared” and to provide “opportunity to take a fish home for the table or preserve a fish for mounting”. The fish were described as “safe to eat in moderation”, with recommended limits of two to three 150g serves per week for adults and half that for children.

However (oh dear), in April new guidelines on safe levels of firefighting foam chemicals (PFAS’s) came out and the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) recommended this be dropped to one 150g serve per week for adults and one 75g serve per fortnight for children. This probably won’t be all that significant, since presumably the remaining barra won’t feed and will ultimately die as the water cools.

Fisheries Victoria estimated it had spent about $150,000 in creating the fishery, including purchasing the fish to stock, upgrading access infrastructure and signs and consulting with recreational fishers. No mention of the cost of the ballot, but an assurance that Recreational Licence fees were not used to develop the fishery.

So, in summary: an uplifting experiment, a chance of a lifetime for a few lucky anglers, or a monumental folly and waste of public money, given that the power station was always going to be shut down? Maybe a bit of all three…

Anyone remember Salmon Fishing in the Yemen?

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