NSW Fisheries made a commitment to more research into the Snowy Mountain trout fishery at a public meeting in Cooma last week.
The meeting followed a couple of days of workshopping between current Fisheries officers and trout stocking advocates, retired fisheries managers and even a trout fishery expert scientist from New Zealand.
DPI Senior Fisheries Manager Inland, Cameron Westaway led the well-attended public meeting at the Cooma Ex-Services Club on Thursday, May 29, opening proceedings by admitting more research into the trout fishery was needed, particular given the perception of declining catches of rainbows.
“We would like to do more research and will be doing more research and that is the bottom line,” Westaway said.
He revealed that Fisheries did have three coded wire tagging machines that inserted a tiny wire tag into the nose of fingerling trout and that could be then read later in the fish’s life as it passed through the Jindabyne fish ladder or in other locations with portable scanners.
These devices cost $60,000 and the department would like to make greater use of this technology.
Fisheries scientific officer Jamon Forbes outlined the mixed success of the current system employed to count trout populations including electro-shocking creeks, but results often depended on what trout were in the stream at the time.
Scientists also gave assurances they would try and work better with other agencies monitoring the waterways including Snowy Hydro, which had a representative present who among things gave assurances that cloud seeding chemicals were not impacting on trout.
Taupo Fishery scientist Dr Michel Dedual gave a lengthy presentation on the experiences of the world-class rainbow trout fishery in the large volcanic lake and its feeder rivers on the North Island of New Zealand.
Dr Dedual said the entire history of Lake Taupo was important and said that quite often just restocking more trout was not the answer as other factors such as food available for the entire food chain determined how many trout any given waterway can carry.
There was always the dilemma of having fewer and larger fish versus more but stunted fish.
Interestingly, there had also been declines in catches of rainbows on Lake Taupo and the spawning patterns had also changed over the years with trout now travelling up the river over fewer months than before.
While the Taupo fisheries research was funded through trout permits, a major challenge for NSW DPI Fisheries was finding additional funding sources.
Westaway mentioned the possibility of local fishing groups and chambers of commerce funding university researchers to come and do research projects.
Members of various fishing groups were also present including the venerable Monaro Acclimatisation Society (MAS), who has been helping stock the Snowy Mountains from the early days of the previous century.
MAS president Steve Samuels welcomed the commitment for additional research into the trout fishery and his members would be willing to help out wherever possible, with tagging and fish counting and the release of hatchery fish.
Other anglers present questioned DPI Fisheries commitment to trout over native species, but Westaway gave assurances that they were equally important.
Retired fisheries managers including Richard Tilzey left the meeting feeling jaded and while the commitment was there for more research, the reality was that more resources and dollars were needed to make that happen.
Tilzey and the others said there was strange sense of déjà vu after a similar trout meeting in 2000 and what was needed was a well-funded research program that was funded to run over many years to get to the bottom of what was happening to the snowy mountain trout populations.
The trout meeting just happened to be held in the final weeks of the brown trout spawning run on the Eucumbene River that was as healthy as ever attracting huge numbers of anglers, with 86 vehicles counted on one spot on the river the day after the meeting.
But symptomatic of the problems, the reports of rainbows being caught that same week in Lake Eucumbene were dismal, prompting lots of speculation including that the healthy wild population of browns were decimating the stocked rainbow populations.