Australia’s waterways bring us recreational fishos a lot of joy.
Some of our earliest memories are likely of being little kids heading to the local creek, rod in hand and a sense of imagination about what might be under the water’s surface. That sense of anticipation and adventure doesn’t leave us as we get older and continue to enjoy the thrill of fishing.
Every time we make the trip to our favourite creek, river, or coastal spot, we’re doing it because of the enjoyment it gives us. The relaxation of the break from the rat race it provides. The tranquility of being in nature. The fun of spending time with family and friends.
Perhaps above all though, the unknown element is what brings us back again and again. Will we catch anything?
The answer to that question is never certain, but for fishos on a river in New South Wales, it was getting trickier to answer.
Regular visitors to the Oxley River, in the Tweed catchment, began to notice that Australian bass were becoming ever more elusive in their waterway. So, they decided to do something about it.
That wasn’t to buy new gear in the misguided belief it would miraculously put a bass on their hook, or to simply head to another stretch of river.
No, they set out to do something to address the problems affecting the health of the river.
In partnership with Tweed Landcare and Friends of Travis on the Oxley, members of the OzFish Tweed River Chapter looked for solutions to restore habitat to the Oxley River. OzFish is Australia’s only recreational fishing conservation charity and has the goal of delivering better habitat for better fishing through remobilizing an army of recreational fishers.
Only by ensuring native fish have the ideal conditions in which to live, eat, breed, and swim can we be confident that their populations will thrive long into the future.
The stretch of the Oxley River in question had been badly affected by riverbank erosion over a number of years. The riverbanks had become overgrown with invasive weeds, leading to unstable banks and soil run off from the land that caused murky waters and poor water quality.
Floods have had a severe impact on the river, worsening the erosion of the banks. This in turn means that subsequent floods then cause increased erosion and a downwards spiraling situation is created.
OzFish members partnered with similarly motivated local members of Tweed Landcare to identify how they could improve this situation. The resulting project is part of OzFish’s partnership with Landcare NSW across the state.
Supported by Tweed Bait, Tweed Shire Council, and Friends of Travis on the Oxley, the two groups worked collaboratively to begin returning the Oxley River to health. Landcare members had been engaged in projects in the local area for some time and partnering with OzFish allowed the restoration work to be scaled up.
As a family–owned business with a footprint along the east coast but its heart in the local area, Tweed Bait is a company with a strong understanding of and passion for ensuring Australia’s waterways and fish in them are as healthy as can be.
First things first, the invasive weeds had to go. These weeds, including madeira vine and morning glory, had encroached over a long time and gradually forced out the native vegetation. The weeds also played a part in the erosion of the riverbanks as their root systems were not as well suited to holding the soil together, which is critical in this flood-prone area.
It’s not widely appreciated just how important the vegetation alongside a waterway, the riparian zone, is to its health and that of the fish in it. The composition and size of the riparian zone is instrumental to ensuring healthy aquatic habitat.
The roots of native trees are important to shoring up banks and reducing soil entering the water. This also provides safer and more ready access to the water’s edge for fishing.
The trees act as a sort of super combination of veranda and fast-food takeaway for fish. A mature tree will overhang a creek or river, becoming a source of shade and cooling the water – providing important respite for fish, particularly during the height of summer.
It’s the food these trees provide that makes their presence along waterways so key to native fish populations. The insects that fall from their leaves and branches are quickly snapped up by the fish below.
Up to 40 per cent of an Aussie bass’ diet is made up of critters that don’t live in the water. The restoration of native trees to the Oxley River is fundamental to fishers seeing and catching more bass in it and the wider catchment it feeds.
So, it might not be an obvious equation but volunteers plus trees definitely equals better habitat and better fishing.
Dr Sophie Pryor, OzFish Senior Project Officer for the NSW North Coast, explains why the sum of collaborative projects like this is far greater than the efforts of each individual group involved.
“At OzFish, we’ve known for many years about the passion and skills the rec fishing community brings to habitat restoration – it’s the lifeblood of our organisation,” Dr Pryor said.
“There are other organisations with goals similar to ours, chiefly restoring Australia’s incredible natural spaces to their former health and ensuring that future generations can continue to experience and enjoy all that they offer.
“By working together, we can deliver on the old adage of many hands make light work and that’s certainly what we’ve been doing in New South Wales, through our partnership with Landcare NSW. OzFishers and Landcare volunteers are equally committed to improving and restoring their local area and can achieve more together – delivering a holistic approach to healthy habitat on land and water.”
The role rec fishers are playing in NSW is about far more than the 585 native trees and shrubs, and the more than 700m2 of weeding and planting involved in this project at Travis Campbell Park on the Oxley River.
The OzFish and Landcare NSW partnership is a multi-year affair, and this project is just one of 15 that was delivered across the state during 2022. Those projects have been responsible for creating 60 new waterway homes for fish, planting more than 14 kilometres of native trees and shrubs, and removing invasive weeds and rubbish from over 30 kilometres of riverbanks.
Fishos have been at the heart of that. Giving back to the waterways that they love to spend their free time near, on, and in.
Preparing to enter its third year, the partnership will continue to build on its successes and more volunteers are needed to enable its work to continue being scaled up.
OzFish’s partnership with Landcare NSW; Driving Fish Habitat Action is funded by the NSW Recreational Fishing Trusts and supported by funding from the federal government’s Murray-Darling Healthy Rivers Program, as well as BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.
If you feel passionate about looking after your local waterway and want to play a part in helping to restore healthy habitats to support native fish and recreational fishing, get in touch with OzFish.