Individually we are one drop. Together we are a flooded Murray.
Christopher Collins, Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Recreational Fishing Council.
If you’ve spent any time around the rivers and tributaries that form the Murray-Darling Basin you would know that fishing is the lifeblood of nearby rural communities. Recent research has shown that around 430,000 fishers in the Murray-Darling Basin spend around $1.3 billion each year when fishing in the area, and support around 10,950 jobs throughout the Basin. The importance of rec fishing to Basin communities extends beyond dollars and cents, too. Recreational fishing provides families with a way to relate to each other. It provides time to think, reflect, and relax. And of course the odd meal too.
Recreational fishers have observed a gradual decline in the health of the rivers and fish communities that make up the Basin over the years – particularly during drought times when the level of over-allocation of available water was so evident. It became clear to all that a new approach was needed, and so the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) developed a draft Basin Plan, which was supposed to help rehabilitate the Basin to a healthier state. Members of the public were invited to comment on the proposed Basin Plan in late 2011, though on reading it, many recreational fishers began to voice concerns that it didn’t seem to consider the needs of native fish, or by extension, recreational fishers. The draft plan was all about creating a new way to divvy up water between users (including the environment, which is a start), but totally ignored the need to ensure water is provided in the right ways, and at the right times throughout the year, in order for water to be of any benefit for fish. The draft plan also failed to acknowledge the need for more and healthier fish habitat in the Basin, and fishways on all dams to improve fish movement. But perhaps one of the biggest shortcomings of the proposed plan was that there was no obvious way for rec fishers and fish experts to be consulted on all of these things on an ongoing basis. Committees were being formed to guide how water should be used to benefit the environment, and rec fishers and fish ecologists weren’t at the table. There was a very real risk of water being used in a way which was great for trees and birds, but provided no real benefit for our native fish.
The need to provide a unified voice for recreational fishers in the Basin was identified, to help ensure that the Basin Plan gave proper recognition for the needs of native fish and recreational fishers. And so the Murray-Darling Basin Recreational Fishing Council (MDBRFC) was formed. The MDBRFC is an alliance of recreational fishing bodies from five States and Territories throughout the Basin, including VRFish, the Capital Region Fishing Alliance, Native Fish Australia, Freshwater Fishing and Stocking Association of Queensland, NSW Council of Freshwater Anglers Inc., South West Anglers Association Inc. (NSW), Field and Game Federation of Australia, South Australian Recreational Fishing Advisory Council, Australian Fishing Trade Association, and Recfish Australia. Collectively they represent the voice of over 991,000 recreational fishers.
Never before have recreational fishing groups come together in this way to tackle a single issue, and it seems that these cooperative efforts are paying off. MDBRFC members have attended meetings with senior staff from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, as well as Minister Burke’s office, to demand more focus on native fish requirements. The MDBRFC has provided feedback on their proposed Basin Plan, advising how it can be improved to provide greater benefit for native fish and rec fishers (for more information go to the Fish Habitat Network website at www.fishhabitatnetwork.com.au). These collaborative efforts have also played a role in creating at the table for recreational fishers to provide input to high level committees involved in the management of our rivers and fish communities in the Basin.
It just goes to show what rec fishers can achieve when we come together and cooperate on issues that we all feel are important.