Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fish habitat and common sense

Fish habitat is out of control, what about our habitat? Thanks to the ongoing floods down the Murray River these past twelve months, large chunks of the riverbanks have been washed away and a great many of the River Red Gums lining the banks have toppled into the river. If Mother Nature were a person the greenies would have lynched her by now or at the very least brokered a deal with the government to have her shut down.
A barbie boat ride up the river on a balmy spring evening several weeks ago highlighted just how many trees had fallen in over a relatively short stretch of water. Our little cruise also revealed how implausible waterskiing would be (for the mentally sound), along that particular part of the river this coming summer.
Back in the good old days (read: 1855), the three colonial governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were paying snagging contractors to de-snag the river and keep it a navigable waterway. Snags were hauled out of the river by bullock teams or in inaccessible areas the snags were towed away using boats. In 1857 Francis Cadell built and operated the first custom made snag boat (the Grapler), which was fitted with a crane and could lift 14 to 15 tons.
By all accounts there was no shortage of Murray Cod caught in the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s, which makes me conclude that perhaps de-snagging alone didn’t have too much of an effect on the cod numbers? This of course was before weirs and water regulation radically altered the river flow and some bright spark was yet to release the “Boolarra” strain of Cyprinus carpio (common carp), into the waterways.
Fast-forward to our present day where the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage prosecutes anyone found guilty of removing snags from the river. It is their view that fallen trees and branches provide crucial breeding habitat for the Murray Cod. Having done some (relatively shallow) research into the subject myself, I tend to agree….. to a point.
Surely it is possible for a compromise to be reached that would be beneficial for the river, the native fish and the people? Australia’s Murray River is still supposed to be a navigable river. The rate at which trees are tumbling into it will cause the Murray to be choked with snags and debris sooner rather than later. Would it not be possible to have both areas at intervals along the banks for fish habitat as well as keeping the middle of the river clear and navigable for boating and recreational activities?

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