Environment News: The trout debate

EVERY couple of years the “great trout debate” breaks out again and causes large amounts of angst in angling and conservation circles.

The National Parks Association (not the government agency) has being agitating to get trout out of national park rivers for over 20 years. And while I’d guess that most of our readers would support the stocking of trout into suitable rivers, there is a serious minority group of anglers – the dyed-in-the-wool native fish lovers – who oppose this practice. They aren’t backward about letting their views be known to us, either.

The various varieties of trout and salmon (salmonids) stocked into Australia’s waterways are fantastic sportfish and add literally millions of dollars to regional economies through tackle and bait sales, boat purchase and hire, fuel, mechanic services, accommodation, guiding and food and beverage sales. But they are mighty efficient predators and clearly take their toll of a number of native species.

So far, moves to remove salmonid populations or stop re-stocking have not found favour with our political masters, largely due to some definitive studies demonstrating their economic worth and probably the fact that some of the best trout rivers sit in the middle of swinging seats. A recent NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee (FSC) final determination now looks set to stir the debate up again.

The FSC has determined that the aquatic ecological community in the catchment of the Snowy River is facing a very high risk of extinction in NSW in the near future, and consequently is eligible to be listed as an Endangered Ecological Community under the NSW Fisheries Management Act. The area covered by this determination covers all rivers, creeks and streams of the Snowy River catchment in NSW including the Snowy itself and the Eucumbene and Thredbo Rivers. It includes the river bed channels inundated by the big man-made lakes (Jindabyne, Eucumbene etc) but excludes the impoundments themselves.

It means that in these waters a whole bunch of species will be further protected, including Australian bass, river blackfish, Australian grayling and eels. There may be threat abatement plans and species recovery plans developed, presumably depending on political will and availability of funds.

Where do trout and salmon figure in all of this? The determination notes that the stocking of salmonids in these waters constitutes a “key threatening process” in relation to the native aquatic ecological community. Presumably the final determination now gets considered by Fisheries staff and ultimately their political masters. You can download the determination from www.fsc.nsw.gov.au. Get ready for more “trout debates”.

John Newbery is Fishing World’s Environment Editor.

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