Pioneer River Fish Habitat Reef Modules thriving

RECENT underwater video monitoring surveys show Fish Habitat Reef Modules in the Pioneer River are now thriving.

An amazing 22 fish species have been recorded using the new Habitat Reefs which were deployed in 2021 by Mackay Regional Council.

All up, 45 Habitat Reef Modules were deployed at the base of three easily accessible fishing platforms on Bridge Road, Brisbane Street and Carlyle Street.

Matt Moore, fisheries ecologist with Catchment Solutions said recording 22 species on these reefs was a fantastic result and represented substantial increase compared to pre-deployment surveys.

“Monitoring results demonstrate the reef design and project have been a huge success, both in terms of increasing populations of iconic recreational fishing species at the sites, like barramundi, mangrove jack and fingermark, and providing habitat for juvenile fish species,” Moore said.

Moore said the most encouraging results had been the high numbers of juvenile fish species utilising the reef modules as nursery habitats.

“Fish typically have millions of eggs and larvae, but most of these are eaten by predators,” he said.

“A great way to increase fish populations is to provide nursery habitats for these baby fish, allowing them to shelter from predators.”

Busy fish nurseries also get a big thumbs up from recreational fishers. John Bennet from Mackay Recreational Fishing Association (MRFA) said they fully supported sensible and practical ways to improve fisheries management.

“It’s fantastic to turn desert landscapes into productive fisheries by protecting juvenile fish. If there is no habitat, then there are no juvenile fish.”

Some of the more iconic fish species spotted during the video surveys include barramundi, golden snapper (fingermark), mangrove jack, barred grunter, estuary cod and trevally.

Catches of large barramundi and barred grunter from the fishing platforms have also been reported by young and old fishers alike.

In addition to the recreational fishing species, the reef modules also provide habitats for fish species that feed on algae, such as rabbitfish, red scats, mullet and small-bodied wrasse.

Moore said that these ecosystem engineers are vital for maintaining healthy habitats in Great Barrier Reef waters, as they feed on fast-growing algae, which often outcompetes slower-growing corals and molluscs.

Chair of council’s Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee Cr Belinda Hassan said it was amazing to see the results of the video surveys.

“Seeing just how much these innovative concrete structures have transformed into healthy marine ecosystems in a relatively short time is really exciting,” Cr Hassan said.

“It’s also fantastic that, as part of council’s Recreational Fishing Strategy, we have been able to offer three easily accessible fishing platforms and install reefs off them that are now home to some big barra, and plenty of other quality fish,” she said.

“Council is really pleased to see the platforms being used by so many anglers, as well as local Mackay schools for outdoor curricular activities.”

The innovative Habitat Reef Modules were designed by Catchment Solutions to provide complex vertical relief structures for a wide range of fish species and encrusting marine organisms.

The modules comprise an internal chamber at the top, only accessible via small openings to provide shelter for juvenile and small-bodied fish species. A large cave at the bottom of the modules can be occupied by larger-bodied fish, including recreationally significant species.

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