Bringing community, industry and agencies together

Authors: Luciana Bucater, Andy Lowes and Pat Gudhka

Getting out and connecting with the community is a rewarding part of the job for the Lower Murray Selected Area team. Following the reduced number of face-to-face activities over the past two years, the team took the opportunity to re-connect with the Riverland community in the second half of 2022 via the Riverland Field Day in September and a Fish and Flows community forum in November.

Field days are wonderful events to bring community, industry and agencies together. For the first time in over 60 years, the Riverland Community Field Day was cancelled in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and then again in 2021. This made the 2022 event one not to be missed!

The Lower Murray Flow-MER team hosted an information stall as part of the Department of Primary Industries and Regions, South Australia’s (PIRSA) stall at the Riverland Field Day, to raise awareness about fish and our monitoring work in the Murray River.

Over 11,000 people attended the Field Day from as far away as Western Australia and Queensland. The PIRSA stall was well situated to take advantage of these crowds and the passing foot traffic, and the electrofishing boat Frank the Zapper proved a real drawcard.

“The ‘alien fingers’ hanging near the path really caught my eyes”, said a member of the public who stopped and found out that they were anodes, the negative terminal that releases electric current.

David Short explaining the various parts of the electrofishing boat. Photo credit: SARDI
David Short explaining the various parts of the electrofishing boat. Photo credit: SARDI

Visitors to the stall learned about how electrofishing works and its value as a fish sampling method. They also learned about the benefits of water for the environment and how the Lower Murray team is monitoring plant and animal responses to water delivery.

If you are curious about how electrofishing works and the advantages of using this method, check out this article.

To see the field team in action using ‘Frank’, the electrofishing boat (star of the Field Day), check out these videos:

Sharing our Science in the Lower Murray

Restoring flows to the Lower Murray River

In October 2022, the Fish and Flows Community Forum was back with a bang! The event was a great success, with large numbers of community members turning-up for discussions and knowledge-sharing with scientists from South Australia and New South Wales.

Participants heard about the current status of Murray cod and Golden perch populations of the Lower Murray and Darling rivers, and how river flows, including water for the environment, can benefit fish.

Sam Davis presents at the Forum. Photo credit: SARDI
Brenton Zampatti presents at the Forum. Photo credit: SARDI

Sam Davis (left) and Brenton Zampatti (right) among the several presenters on the day. Photo credit: SARDI

Participants heard from experts on a range of topics including:

  • How spring flows which are supported by Water for the Environment are promoting healthy rivers, and in turn, supporting Murray cod recruitment.
  • How the recruitment of golden perch is more consistent in rivers that retain an annual flow pulse, highlighting the importance of water for the environment in maintaining these flows.
  • How the use of modern fish-protected pump screens could save native fish as well as assist irrigators in saving water/money.
  • The fish deaths in the lower Darling/Baaka river in 2019-20, the responses by NSW government agencies, and the observed recovery of native fish populations since then.
Full house audience at the Fish and Flows Community Forum. Photo credit: SARDI
Full house audience at the Fish and Flows Community Forum. Photo credit: SARDI

At the time of the forum, flows were increasing in the Lower Murray River, having reached 75,000 megalitres per day in October, with the potential to reach 200,000 megalitres per day by the peak. As it turns out, this early thinking wasn’t too far off the mark, with the peak reaching around 190,000 megalitres per day in December 2022.  It is thought that flows of this magnitude could enable the flow-cued spawning fish, such as golden perch, to have another good year of strong recruitment.

Scientists spend years studying and gathering specific knowledge about river flow ecology, and community members also possess an intimate local knowledge.  The Fish and Flows forum enabled conversations between these two groups to enhance understanding on both sides of the discussion, ultimately bettering river and fish literacy and informing flow management.

The Forum received the support from the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Hon. Clare Scriven. Although Minister Scriven was not able to attend, she sent a comprehensive statement, which was read at the opening of the forum by Associate Professor Qifeng Ye of the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), who leads the Lower Murray Flow-MER Project. We are grateful to Rosalie Auritch, CEO of the Renmark Irrigation Trust for facilitating an engaging and informative event. The forum was strongly supported by local recreational fishers, represented by Peter Teakle.

The Fish and Flows forum was once again seen as an engaging event which was well received by the attendees. The team from PIRSA-SARDI and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder received plenty of positive feedback, with participants appreciating the amount of knowledge in the room. They also indicated that they’d like to see these types of events occurring on an annual basis.

Lots of great discussions during the Q&A session with our panel of experts. Photo credit: SARDI
Lots of great discussions during the Q&A session with our panel of experts. Photo credit: SARDI

Our work in the Lower Murray River system

The Lower Murray River is at the end of the Murray Darling Basin system and includes the only estuary of the MDB, which connects to the Southern Ocean. It is a complex system with diverse habitats supporting important water-dependent plants and animals. Our work here is to monitor and evaluate ecological responses to Commonwealth environmental water delivery.

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