Key words: Oral history, native fish, Native Fish Strategy
Threats and Impacts: One of the main goals of the Native Fish Strategy (NFS) was to return native fish communities in the MDB to 60% of that prior to European settlement. Fundamental to realising this goal is knowledge of the original distribution and abundance of fish fauna in the MDB. However, there has been limited readily available information on the rivers and their fish populations at the time of European settlement.
Broad aim and specific objectives: The aims of this project were to:
- collect, collate and analyse historical information on native fish in the southern half of the Murray-Darling Basin;
- identify the original distribution and habitat preferences of Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis) and resolve the ongoing debate on this issue;
- identify the original distribution and habitat preferences of the other large fish species, primarily those of interest to anglers;
- collect general historical information on native fish, in particular aspects of their biology;
- document changes or events that may have contributed to the decline of native fish;
- present the information collected in a format to assist scientists and managers engaged in the recovery of native fish but also accessible to the general public so as to increase community awareness of the plight of Trout cod and other native fish species.
Methods: Photographs, written accounts and oral history were collected on the past distribution and abundance of Trout Cod and other large native fishes of the Basin. For Trout Cod, records held in museum databases were located and used, and nearly 400 photographs of catches of Cod and other native fish were located and examined, most of them predating 1950 and the oldest dating from 1862. Photographs were sourced from anglers, angling clubs, individuals, historical societies, books and newspapers.
An extensive search of old written accounts of native fish captures was also undertaken, including writings of early settlers, naturalists and anglers, newspaper records, hand-written manuscripts, indigenous accounts, and reports and appendices.
Local historical societies and angling clubs were contacted to help identify senior residents who may possess knowledge relating to native fish. Participants were interviewed to gather information on their personal history, fish captures, locations and timing, and the changes they observed over the years. Photographs were used to aid validation of species caught. Interviews were recorded and provided to the individual for correction and confirmation. Over 140 people were contacted with the two oldest being 95 years of age whose memories extended back into the 1920s.
The reliability of individual pieces of historical evidence relating to the presence of native fish in specific waters was assessed and rated as high, moderate or low. From the information collected maps were created for each catchment recording the locations of historical accounts for each species considered to be of high quality. Historical material was collated and summarised for each catchment.
Findings: From all of the historical sources, including newspaper records, journal entries, indigenous accounts, naturalist’s notes and personal photographs, a wealth of information from across the MDB has been collected on Trout Cod, with much also on the other larger fish species e.g. Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii), Golden Perch (Macquaria Ambigua), Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica), Catfish (Tandanus tandanus) and River blackfish (Gadopsis marmoratus). For each of these species the following information is presented:
- European discovery
- Aboriginal and European names
- Distribution and habitat associations
- Community value
- Current conservation status
- Map of former distribution and abundance
From this information a reliable indication of the pre-European settlement distribution and abundance of the larger native fish species of the MDB was constructed.
Lessons learned and future directions: This project has provided an indication of the distribution and abundance of Trout Cod and other large native fish species in the MDB prior European settlement. By examining this information, researchers and managers can get an idea of what populations of Trout Cod used to be like and set targets for rehabilitation efforts to achieve the goal of the NFS to return native fish populations back to 60% of their pre-European settlement condition.
Stakeholders and Funding bodies: This project was funded through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Strategy.
Contact: William Truman, Tel: + 61 7 4042 4800, Email: email@example.com.