Call for “marine parks” on Murray Darling

According to an ABC news report, a river ecologist is pushing for large areas of the Murray-Darling Basin to be turned into a marine parks-style scheme.

Dr Paul Humphries, from Charles Sturt University, is calling for the creation of freshwater protected areas in the basin similar to marine parks. Humphries says native fish stocks are facing major problems due to river regulation, overfishing and decreased water quality.

“We have far fewer species and far smaller populations than would have been there 100 years ago or so,” he said.

Humphries says fishing bans would be an important part of the protection strategy, but he says strict measures need to be put in place if results are to be achieved.

“[We have to] focus our rehabilitation restoration activities on resnagging, repairing the edge zone of the rivers, increasing water quality and also, very importantly, reducing the number, if not totally prohibiting the number of fish that will be taken out,” he said.

Not surprisingly, environmental groups are backing the concept, seeing freshwater protected areas as a last chance to save fish species “in crisis”.

“So many native fish species along the Murray are facing extinction because the mass of water allocation going on in the basin, because of the modification of the waterway itself,” WWF project manager Martin Taylor said.

“They are all having tremendously severe impacts on the Murray cod, for example. It is necessary to have protected areas to ensure fish have passageways past any dams and weirs and to put structure back into the aquatic environment, because structure is what fish really depend on.”

Taylor says the concept of having protected freshwater areas has been under investigation since at least 2002, but several issues are causing a hold-up.

“There’s been a long-standing commitment by all the Australian governments to the development of freshwater protected areas – it just really has not got anywhere,” he said.

Even though Dr Martin thinks protected areas could lead to an eventual resurgence of recreational fishing in the Murray-Darling Basin, anglers are not so sure.

South Australian Recreational Fishing Advisory Council executive officer Trevor Watts is already angry that a current ban on fishing for cod in the Murray in South Australia is set to be extended.

Mr Watts says he will fight the concept of freshwater protected areas on the Murray if it affects fishing.

“We support the idea in principle, but not in my backyard thank you,” he said.

“We would support marine parks if there was no impact on recreational anglers. But where there is impact, we’d seriously consider how we view them.”

And Mr Watts says he sees flaws in Dr Humphries’s argument.

“Certainly, we’re worried about fish stocks – they are the anglers’ future. If they diminish, our future as anglers diminishes, so we’re certainly worried about that,” he said.

“But referring to how the world was 100 years ago – well, I think you have to get over that and move on.

“The world is the way it is now and we can never go back. I’ve heard other scientists say we have to accept the river as it is today.

“That 100 years argument applies to just about everything on this earth. We have to accommodate what we have today, and I don’t know that closing off whole areas for the sake of closing them off is necessarily the right way to go.

“I’m sure there’s other ways – like restocking – to build up fish stocks.”


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