Upper Murrumbidgee Recovery Reach
The Upper Murrumbidgee Recovery Reach (UMRR) incorporates the headwaters of the iconic Murrumbidgee River, a tributary of the mighty Murray river and the second longest river in Australia. The upper Murrumbidgee River, flowing both through Ngarigo and Ngunnawal country, is the major waterway of Canberra, our nation’s capital, the ACT region and surrounding rural NSW.
The importance of this Recovery Reach
The fish fauna of the upper Murrumbidgee comprises both upland and lowland species assemblages. The upper distribution limit for the lowland Murray–Darling Basin fish species occurs at Gigerline Gorge, near where the river crosses the southern border of the ACT. The upper and lower Recovery Reach refers the river sections upstream and downstream of Gigerline Gorge.
Nine native fish species have been recorded in the upper Murrumbidgee River within the last 80 years, including Silver perch which is now absent from water in and above the ACT. The significance of fish in the upper Murrumbidgee is highlighted by historical accounts of spawning runs of Silver perch in the lower Recovery Reach ‘turning the river black’ due to the masses of fish moving upstream.
Despite the large declines in native fish species we have experienced in the Murray-Darling Basin, the upper Murrumbidgee River is today home to one of the few remaining natural and self-sustaining populations of Macquarie perch (upper Recovery Reach) and Murray cod (lower Recovery Reach). Trout cod, Two-spined blackfish, Mountain galaxias, Murray river crayfish, Platypus, Rakali and Eastern long neck turtles are found across Recovery Reach whereas Golden Perch, Western carp Gudgeons and Australian Smelt are found in the lower Recovery Reach. Murray Cod and Golden Perch have been recently stocked into the upper Recovery Reach.
The fact that a small but seemingly viable native fish population, as well as areas of higher quality riverine habitat still remain, provides a baseline from which recovery can be demonstrated. We do, however, have some threats in the upper Murrumbidgee to contend with:
- reduced water quality from urban and rural pollution
- water extraction
- excessive sediment deposition
- introduced fish and inappropriate stocking
- loss of riparian vegetation
- the spread of weeds
- barriers to fish movement that fragment threatened fish populations
Recovering the Upper Murrumbidgee
The Upper Murrumbidgee Demonstration Reach (UMDR) was established under the former Native Fish Strategy (2003-2013) to provide the community with a visible demonstration that the health of the river and its floodplain, and the plants and animals that depend upon these river habitats, can be rehabilitated to a better condition through coordinated actions that address the major threats. The UMDR partnership remains strongly committed to this aim and are pleased to be working with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority under the new Native Fish Recovery Strategy as one of four Recovery Reaches. Our work in the UMRR will include:
- carrying out on-ground actions to recover native fish.
- co-designing the Recovery Reach project with all stakeholders
- investing in capacity building, awareness raising, engagement and education activities with all stakeholders.
- facilitating continued investment and strong partnerships into the future.
What has been done
The UMDR has been working with partners over many years to care for the upper Murrumbidgee. Highlights of work to date are:
- Reconnecting the high quality habitats of the Bredbo and Colinton gorges via the Rivers of Carbon Upper Bidgee Rehab project.
- Reducing sedimentation and improve water quality via erosion control projects.
- Improving fish passage using Engineered Log Jams at Tharwa.
- Protecting high quality riparian vegetation by undertaking woody weed control.
- Involving the community in practical, hands-on ways to improve the river corridor through activities like our on Adventurous Volunteer Program.
- Raising awareness of and building community capacity to address threats.
- Stable collaborative partnerships in place led by Bush Heritage Australia.
- 45 landholders involved
- Working across 50 sites
- 50km of riparian area fenced
- 85ha of riparian area protected and 44ha revegetated
- Planting of 40,000 plants
- 20 erosion control sites
- 277ha of weed control
- 1,000+ people engaged through events and activities
Upper Murrumbidgee Recovery Reach Activities:
As a Native Fish Strategy Recovery Reach, over the next two years we will:
- Review and share current knowledge about how to improve fish habitat complexity in sand affected streams.
- Trial low cost methods to improve habitat complexity in sand affected streams.
- Map habitat and teach hands-on restoration through our Adventurous Volunteers Program.
- Run community and stakeholder workshops to build capacity to address threats.
- Share knowledge and inspiration through an annual Native Fish Showcase.
Working with community:
There will be a number of activities with key stakeholders relationships in the upper Murrumbidgee region to provide on-ground coordination and information sharing across fisheries-related activities.
World Fish Migration Day aims to create awareness about the importance of migratory fish and free-flowing rivers. Within our great Murray-Darling Basin, native fish populations are currently estimated to be about 10% of pre-European settlement. One such species is the endangered Macquarie perch.
Antia joined Bush Heritage Australia’s Lis McClellan and other guests to showcase the work of an exciting project using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) remote sensing and drone surveys to assess natural barriers to assist with environmental flow planning for Macquarie perch spawning migrations in the upper Murrumbidgee River.
Antia ran two webinars in November 2021 with the first providing an update on native fish recovery in the reach. For the second we were joined by Matt Beitzel and Andy McGovern who presented an engaging session on the Murray cod in the upper Murrumbidgee.
‘Take me to the river’ Podcast
In our podcast, Siwan chats with Andrew McGovern, an avid angler and one of Australia’s most recognised fishing journalist. Andrew has been fishing in the Canberra and Snowy Mountains regions for over 40 years and has a special connection to the Murrumbidgee River, where he grew up. Siwan and Andrew discuss the role anglers play in caring for and protecting native fish, as well as the waterways they live in. Andrew is particularly passionate about sustainable catch-and-release fishing practices, and how we can minimise harm and maximise enjoyment of being out on the river and catching our wonderful fish.
Meet the coordinator: Antia Brademann
Antia is a river enthusiast who loves mucking around in boats- some of her best days have been spent on the river! She’s in awe of our native fish and iconic aquatic wildlife and impressed by a staunch and committed catchment community who values its river and has been working for many years to protect and improve it.
The Native Fish Recovery Strategy will supplement and build on existing knowledge, generated under the previous native fish strategy and will be implemented collaboratively with Basin state governments, First Nations and the wider community. It’s development will be delivered concurrently with the implementation of high-priority implementation activities including the Lower Darling Fish Monitoring and Engagement program and the Native fish emergency response plan.
Main photo: The upper Murrumbidgee River at Scottsdale Reserve.
Photo credit: Annette Ruzicka.