Barra stocking case strengthens as politicians weigh in
IT WAS not the response the Fitzroy River Fish Stocking Association members were hoping for when they heard back from Capricornia election candidates about their barramundi offset proposal.
The association put out a call early last week to the two major parties, asking them to commit to offsetting the Rookwood Weir, as they were certain the project would jeopardise the natural recruitment of barramundi in the Fitzroy system.
A barramundi hatchery in Rockhampton was part of the offset proposal put to member for Capricornia Michelle Landry and Labor candidate Russell Robertson.
This would allow a steady supply of suitable barramundi fingerlings to join the system, which the association believes is desperately needed.
The association, working with Rockhampton Regional Council, has earmarked a water treatment plant on the banks of the Fitzroy to be decommissioned later this year.
A supporter of the proposal, Councillor Tony Williams, said "using this infrastructure that is going to become redundant anyway just makes sense” while inspecting the facility with association member Kim Martin and president Andrew McClelland.
Ms Landry was the first to respond to the association's proposal.
She said she would like to meet with the group but was confident the weir's design had factored in fish passage.
"Rookwood Weir is a great project that will turn water into jobs and while final design work is under way, I'm confident it will be the most modern piece of water infrastructure in the country,” she said.
"Weirs and dams are far better designed these days to allow fish passage.
"I'm sure more fingerlings of a range of species would be beneficial to the fishing scene in the Fitzroy and I am more than happy to discuss the project with FRFSA.”
Ms Landry's response was met with measured optimism from Mr McClelland, who said it was "encouraging”.
Mr Robertson provided a one-line response that read: "If elected, I would be a strong local voice for my community and engaging with all stakeholders including those at the Fitzroy River Fish Stocking Association.”
Mr McClelland's response to Mr Robertson's words was not so warm.
"Mr Robertson's response failed to show an understanding of how community offsets work and didn't deal with the idea of a local hatchery at all,” Mr McClelland said.
According to the association, scientific monitoring of the Fitzroy River has shown no significant natural recruitment of barramundi in the system over a number of years.
This was skewing the balance of the fish population in the river towards larger, older fish, presenting a risk of lean years ahead as fewer smaller fish inhabit the system.
The association believes the project could get off the ground with a $1.5 million funding injection and about $150,000 a year in ongoing costs.
Over Easter, the association released 5000 tiny barra into the Fitzroy with the help of funding from council and the Rocky Barra Bounty, but the association's access to fingerlings has been strained over the last few years.
This year's release saw the group source their fish from Childers and concerns were raised within the group whether the strain of fish from so far south would be suitable for the Fitzroy.
The year before, the association was not able to stock the system at all.
"Last year, 2018, we couldn't buy any suitable fingerlings for restocking and this year we had to accept a last-minute load of smaller fish right at the end of the release window if we wanted to at least put some in without waiting another year,” Mr McClelland said.