The Native Fish Strategy 2003‐2013 (NFS) was developed to address the long‐term decline in native fish, with an overarching goal of returning native fish populations to 60% of their pre‐European levels after 50 years of implementation. The MDBA ceased funding of its NFS program in July 2013 after 10 years of implementation. Despite the NFS program coming to an end, its goals and objectives are enduring.

The purpose of this report is to assess the success of NFS research and development projects in terms of their contribution to the science and to the management of native fish in the Basin. It also undertakes a critical analysis of the current level of adoption of research and development findings across a broad range of stakeholders and provides recommendations on how to strengthen adoption pathways.

More than 100 outputs of NFS activities, including research projects, reports from technical workshops and expert panels, ‘one‐off’ reviews, progress reports on issues such as demonstration reaches and the ‘Sea to Hume’ program, annual implementation reports, the 5 Year Review, the Priorities for the Next Decade 2013‐23, and information publications were identified in this study. In order to help illustrate the level of adoption and uptake of NFS activities, several case studies were chosen that had generic applicability, encompassed a range of projects and/or disciplines, and addressed a number of driving actions.

The reality is that a 10 year (or less in most cases) timeframe is inadequate to allow or to assess significant uptake, adoption and transferability of project results. This is particularly the case for a strategy that appears to have been unique in its vision and breadth of coverage, and which was designed to recover freshwater fish over five decades.

Nevertheless, there are certainly some ‘jewels in the crown’ in the NFS research portfolio that can be assessed and these have certainly been adopted elsewhere already, and will provide the basis for improvements in freshwater fish
management into the future.

Overall, the program of investment in the NFS has significantly contributed to raising the profile of native fish in the Basin, and their associated threats. If sequential targeted funding had not been available, these on‐ground outcomes would have been unlikely to have been delivered. The following highlights illustrate just a few of the successes of the NFS research and
adoption projects:

  • The world‐renowned ‘Sea to Hume’ program which is restoring fish passage to over 2,000 km of the Murray River by retrofitting fishways to 15 weirs and barrages.
  • Implanting more than 30,000 fish with microchips to record their movements through the fishways along the Murray River to gauge the success of the ‘Sea to Hume’ program and guide future spending.
  • Developing a scientifically‐based methodology for resnagging, including its onground application to a number of stretches on the River Murray.
  • Establishing seven Demonstration Reaches across the Basin—community‐based, river rehabilitation showcase sites, covering almost 800 river‐kilometres.
  • Supporting seven emergency interventions that have successfully prevented regional extinctions of some of the Basin’s more highly threatened fish species.
  • Supporting the development of the award‐winning Williams’ Carp trap which separates adult Carp moving through fishways while automatically releasing close to 100 per cent of native fish, untouched and unharmed.
  • Documenting the incidence of native fish mortality and injury from water and irrigation infrastructure (such as weirs, pump intakes etc) and working with the irrigation industry to find practical ways to mitigate these significant impacts.
  • Investigating ways to improve the management of environmental flows to ensure the ecological values are maximised.
  • Leveraging co‐investment from other funding sources—since the inception of the NFS in 2003, the MDBA has invested Basin‐wide in over 60 projects with a total value of approximately $90 million.

A number of projects instigated by the NFS have been the recipient of international, national and local awards, highlighting the excellent standard of science, pragmatism and community engagement achieved by these initiatives. For example:

  • The ‘Sea to Hume’ program was judged one of Australasia’s Top 25 restoration projects by the Ecological Management & Restoration journal in partnership with the Global Restoration Network;
  • The development of the ‘Carp Separation Cage’ was the 2004 Winner of a Eureka Prize in Water Research for innovative research;
  • The Katfish Demonstration Reach won a SA Premier’s Natural Resource Management Award in 2011; and
  • The Condamine’s Dewfish Demonstration Reach won both the prestigious 2012 Australian Riverprize, a 2012 Australian Banksia Award for Water and the 2013 United Nations Association of Australia World Environment Day Award for Biodiversity.

Native fish have important ecological, social, cultural and economic values. Importantly they provide a key link between communities and their river systems. The health of native fish populations will be seen by the public as a key indicator of the success of waterway management into the future.  For the full report click on the front cover.

You can read the full report here
Report authors: Jim Barrett, Mark Lintermans, Ben Broadhurst, Institute of Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, 2014

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