A great team of people

NFS team members during Native Fish Awareness Week 2010 (Photo - Fern Hames)

The NFS was delivered by a network of people across the Murray-Darling Basin, and a governance structure was established to ensure its effective implementation. This model involved central coordination through the then MDBC, with jurisdictional participation and implementation by State and Territory government staff, and a variety of stakeholders, scientists and community representatives within groups and taskforces. The terms by which groups were known changed over the life of the NFS.

The various taskforces were dedicated to specific aspects of native fish management, and implementation of the NFS. While some taskforces such as the Community Stakeholder Taskforce (CST) operated through the life of the NFS, others operated for briefer periods. The frequency with which they met also varied, many operating on an ‘as needed’ basis to achieve particular tasks.

Close associations were formed between members of the NFS team, which was a fundamental aspect of the successful implementation of this program. Team members build relationships through working on specific projects together, attending meetings, workshops and forums and regional events. While there were staff and taskforce membership changes over the lifetime of the NFS, many had a long standing involvement and were able to act as mentors to share their experiences and wisdom. This was an important factor in maintaining continuity and strong connections.

The substantial resourcing of people was a key aspect of the NFS, enabling careful planning and implementation of a range of Basin-wide and local activities. The need for frequent and clear communication within and between the groups of the NFS was fundamental in ensuring that a consistent message was being disseminated to achieve the aims of the NFS. There was a focus on working together, understanding each others’ roles and activities, learning from each other and supporting each other. The diversity of skills, knowledge and perspectives made the NFS team formidable.

Annual implementation reports for the NFS provided comprehensive details regarding the roles of each group, their membership and achievements for each year.

NFS Management Team

The NFS management team was at the core of the program, providing important guidance and leadership to promote, coordinate and implement the program. Based in Canberra, this small team included a director, project managers, a research coordinator and administrative support. The team was responsible for establishing targets and reporting processes, managing the allocation and implementation of priority actions and research projects and demonstration reaches. They managed, convened and facilitated the various taskforces and working groups and strongly supported the NFS coordinators.

Extensive liaison and consultation was required between this team and the jurisdictions, and close networks and partnerships were developed. This team also maintained linkages with other MDBA projects such as the Sustainable Rivers Audit and the Living Murray.

Jim Barrett, Adjunct Associate Professor, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra. Former Director NFS

Janet Pritchard, Assistant Director, Constraints Management , Environmental Management Division, MDBA (Former Director, Research coordinator and Coordinator, NFS)

Heleena Bamford, Project Manager, Basin Alien Fish Plan, MDBA (Former Project Manager, NFS)

Jason Alexandra, Former senior executive MDBA

Brian Lawrence, Director of River Murray Health Program, MDBA

 

 

The Native Fish Advisory Panel

The Fish Management and Science Committee represented the first incarnation of this group, and was a primarily science-based group which helped develop the NFS. It evolved into the Native Fish Implementation Working Group which was subsequently called the Native Fish Advisory Panel (NFAP). The NFAP comprised an independent scientist, a member of the Community Stakeholder Taskforce, senior scientists and managers from the MDBA, relevant Commonwealth agencies and all jurisdictions with primary responsibility for native fish conservation and fisheries management. It evolved from the Fish Management and Science Committee, operating prior to the NFS.

The NFAP met about quarterly and took a lead role in ensuring effective implementation of the NFS, through providing directions, prioritisation of key research and projects. It identified relevant issues in fish conservation and management and providing planning, policy and operational advice regarding implementation of the NFS. It also provided expert advice to the MDBA on key issues such as the Chowilla regulator and the establishment of an expert panel on fish and drought.

The NFAP enhanced the cross jurisdictional approach of the NFS, providing coordination and strengthening links within and across agencies and jurisdictions. Where there was strong two way communication, this enabled sharing of key information on current and emerging issues regarding native fish conservation and management. In time, a NFS coordinator representative attended meetings which enhanced communication and linkages. Where coordinators reported directly to representatives on the panel, the linkages were the strongest.

John Koehn,  NFAP, Principal Research Scientist, Arthur Rylah Institute, Dept Environment and Primary Industries, VIC

Mark Lintermans, Associate Professor, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra. Former NFS research coordinator

Community Stakeholder Taskforce

In 2001, the Community Stakeholder Group (subsequently called the Community Stakeholder Taskforce) was established to assist in the implementation of the NFS. The group comprised representatives from local government, recreational and commercial fishers and the aquaculture sector, the conservation movement, the Indigenous community, natural resource management bodies, agriculture/irrigation sector, and the NFS team. Rather than acting as specific representatives of their particular stakeholder group, the CST members provided a perspective of the groups they are associated with. The involvement of non-government personnel such as the CST was an important feature of the NFS, enabling it to reach a wider range of stakeholders and in a more informal and unrestricted way.

Key tasks of the CST were to provide advice to the NFS team and IWG, promote the NFS in local communities, help develop and implement communication activities, and develop partnerships with relevant groups and natural resource management programs. The CST actively advocated for, and engaged with the community about the NFS across the Basin. Members participated in many public events and tours including NFA week, NFS forums and workshops. They spoke at community meetings, gave presentations at workshops and media interviews, staffed displays at shows and field days, attended school events and worked closely with NFS coordinators.

The CST usually met several times a year, with much of their contact undertaken out of session through email and phone. Over the term of the NFS, while there was some turn over of membership, several members retained their positions which ensured continuity of experience. Despite the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of members within the CST, very strong connections and relationships formed between individuals. Members contributed different skills to various tasks, learnt from each other and shared many experiences.

The work of the CST was driven by the philosophy that unless the community takes ownership and is committed to the NFS, implementation will be difficult. The CST also aimed to acknowledge, and draw on, the wealth of community wisdom, skills and knowledge residing along Basin waterways.

The 2009 review of the NFS suggested Indigenous representation could be increased to have a gender balance, that a recreational fishing member from a peak body could be considered, that contact with IWG (the NFAP) could be increased, as well as engagement with Indigenous, recreational and commercial fishermen, and catchment management agencies.

Phil Duncan, CST member, Indigenous representative

Graham Pike, CST member, recreational angler representative

NFS Coordinators

The NFS coordinators represented an integral component of the program. Their role involved raising awareness of the NFS, engaging with a wide variety of stakeholder groups, integrating the objectives and priorities of the NFS within regional plans and developing and contributing to project briefs. The coordinators undertook key roles in identification of communication resources, establishment of demonstration reaches, participated in numerous engagement activities, and preparation of jurisdictional information for quarterly and annual implementation reports, media articles and fact sheets. They provided essential support to many members of the NFS team including NFAP members and the CST.

The MDBA contributed to the employment of the NFS coordinators, with one coordinator operating in Victoria, one in South Australia, one in Queensland and two in New South Wales. The employment of staff to specifically focus on delivery of the NFS was essential in its success. Put simply, they made things happen.

The NFS coordinators became important knowledge brokers, sharing and disseminating information regarding native fish management within and across jurisdictions. They were often seen as the first point of connection for many stakeholders and managers, ensuring the relevant people connected with each other.

The NFS coordinators formed a strong network amongst themselves, with longer standing staff acting as mentors to new coordinators. Many of their tasks and experiences held similarities. However also being able to share the significant diversity in issues, habitats and engagement challenges helped them learn from each other.  They met at least four times a year, and had frequent phone and email communication.

The activities and focus of each NFS coordinators could vary each year, depending on which issues and projects were being implemented. Each coordinator developed an extensive network of regional contacts and undertook frequent formal and informal liaison with a wide variety of stakeholders including natural resource management agencies, fishing clubs, Landcare groups, Indigenous representatives, schools and local government.

The 2009 review of the NFS indicated universal praise for the work of coordinators by stakeholders, both a variety of community engagement activities and in establishing and ongoing works within Demonstration Reaches. It was recommended that the number of coordinators be increased.

Fern Hames, NFS coordinator, Victoria, Dept Environment and Primary Industries, VIC

Pam Clunie, Former NFS Coordinator, DEPI, Victoria

Greg Ringwood, NFS coordinator , Dept Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, QLD

Anthony Townsend, NFS coordinator, Dept Primary Industries, NSW

Jono McPhaill, NFS coordinator, Primary Industries and Resources South Australia

Jason Higham, Former NFS coordinator SA

 

Fish Passage Taskforce

The Fish Passage Taskforce inspecting the Mildura weir. Photo credit: Ivor Stuart

The Fish Passage Taskforce inspecting the Mildura weir. Photo credit: Ivor Stuart

The Fish Passage Reference Group (subsequently called the Fish Passage Taskforce) was established in 2001, in particular to facilitate the implementation of the MDBC’s Sea to Hume Dam fishway program. It comprised relevant government representatives from all state jurisdictions, as well as River Murray Water, SA Water, an independent technical scientist, and the NFS. This approach, of bringing together several essential disciplines including river managers, engineers and fish scientists specifically aimed to tailor fishway solutions to the ecology and behaviour of native fish species.

The overall objective of the group was to provide expert opinion on fishway design through strong collaboration, both of which were essential to the success of the overall fishway construction and assessment program. The FPTF integrated river hydrology, fishway hydraulics and fish ecology in developing fish passage from a broad, Basin-wide level to an individual site-specific level. The taskforce provided advice on fishway designs, guided consistency across the Basin and developed a Basin-wide fish passage program for priority structures. They placed an emphasis on fishway to pass the entire fish community (fish from 20 to1000 mm long), and highlighted the need for appropriate monitoring and evaluation for new fishways.

The taskforce ran for the entire NFS. It was successful because there was a clear vision and direction from the very start – to restore fish passage along 2000 km of river between Lake Hume and the Sea. Much early effort was placed on ensuring there was an appropriate balancing of representation across all the jurisdictions and the relevant disciplines within the taskforce. Including representation of the river operators was also fundamental in the taskforce’s success.

In the early years of the NFS, the FPTF met up to four times annually to tackle its key objectives. As processes were developed and onground actions implemented, there was a reduced requirement for regular meetings. Throughout the life of the NFS, the membership of the core group did not change significantly. Many strong and collaborative partnerships were formed within the taskforce, which are now ongoing. An important outcome of this taskforce was that experts were able to better understand each others’ perspectives, skills and constraints in engineering design, river management and operations.  The design process was adaptive and as new data emerged the design of fishways changed to include the new ecological knowledge.

The 2009 review of the NFS suggested the current taskforce expand its focus to other major tributaries of the Murray. The taskforce did continue to work through the priority structures within the Basin, including along the Darling River.

Martin Mallen-Cooper , Fish Passage Taskforce member, Fishway Consulting Services

Brenton Zampatti, Fish Passage Taskforce member, SARDI scientist, SA

 

Murray Cod Taskforce

This taskforce initially known as the Murray Cod Reference Group was formed in 2004, following a recommendation from the Management of Murray Cod in the Murray-Darling Basin Workshop, to address the concern over the status of this iconic species. It included representatives from each of the Basin states, and covered the following areas of interest: recreational fishing, Indigenous culture, aquaculture, conservation, fisheries ecological science and the MDB (NFS).  The taskforce contributed extensively to the development of the National Recovery Plan for Murray Cod, and met several times a year until the recovery plan was finalised and then more infrequently.

The taskforce also identified and developed project briefs for research priorities and provided advice to the MDBC including NFS groups on key issues associated with this threatened species. A key recommendation was the development and use of a population model for Murray cod, a project subsequently completed with NFS funding. The use of this model together with the relationships developed between agencies and the improved understanding of Murray cod issues has led to improvements in management such as the move toward slot size fishery regulations.

Importantly the taskforce provided a link between the interests of conservation and recreational fishery management incorporating a cross jurisdictional approach. It prompted a 2010 workshop that focussed on the recreational fishery of Murray cod, and consequently a multi-jurisdictional Murray Cod Fishery Management Group was formed. This group included significant overlap in membership of the original taskforce and the NFS provided initial funding support.

Matt Barwick, Former research coordinator within the NFS Management Team. Recfishing Research Extension Officer. Executive Officer of Murray Cod Fisheries Management Group

Basin Alien Fish Plan Taskforce

This taskforce was established in 2007 with a key role in overseeing the development of a Basin-wide plan to provide consistent and coordinated management of alien fish. The plan aimed to prevent introduction of new alien species, limit the further spread of established alien species, apply integrated management techniques to their control at key points in the Basin, and reduce potential for spread. The taskforce also provided advice and recommendations to the NFS regarding research, communication and education needs for alien fish species.

The taskforce consisted of members of the NFS team, scientific and management representatives from each jurisdiction, a representative from the Invasive Animal CRC and an independent scientific expert. There was significant overlap in membership with the Vertebrate Pest Committee Pest Fish Working Group, which provided important linkages and sharing of information regarding national issues associated with alien fish management.

The taskforce usually met several times a year in the early stages and then on an ‘as needed’ basis. A draft plan was prepared and submitted for approval, although was never finalised. The  process of developing the draft plan clarified research and management needs.

Heleena Bamford, Project Manager, Basin Alien Fish Plan, MDBA

Demonstration Reaches Steering Committee

This steering committee was established in 2008 to provide advice to the NFS on the establishment and support of demonstration reaches across the MDB. It aimed to ensure a consistent approach, identify issues across State boundaries and recommend solutions. The committee played a key role in guided funding and reporting arrangements, oversaw the development of monitoring guidelines, and liaised closely with NFS coordinators regarding issues associated with demonstration reach implementation. There was an emphasis on streamlining funding and reporting processes and ensuring consistency in approach particularly in relation to enabling rigorous monitoring. It also secured funding to promote demonstration reaches which led to specific workshops for demonstration reach managers. These workshops were very effective at building bonds between practitioners of demonstration reaches, sharing experiences and learning from each other.

The committee comprised a variety of representatives within the NFS including the coordinators, the CST and the NFS management team, as well as management and science representatives. Specific expertise was called on as required. Jurisdictional coordinators also occasionally attended when meetings were held in their state. The committee interacted closely with other groups within the NFS, and reported regularly to NFAP. The committee meet several times a year in the early stages of implementation of the Demonstration Reaches, and on an ‘as needed’ basis subsequently.

It is likely that if the program had continued, the committee’s role would have evolved more into an advisory body to the MDBA, including reviewing progress reports of the implementation of demonstration reaches. Connections with those implementing the onground works would also have continued to be enhanced through the demonstration reach workshops.

Peter Jackson, Independent scientist, NFAP. Chair of Demonstration Reach Steering Committee

Habitat Management Area Taskforce

The NFS included an action to develop a framework of principles and guidelines for establishment of Habitat Management Areas within the Basin. Three reports, including a review and case studies, were produced but never distributed. This was due to caution within some agencies about some stakeholders potentially perceiving a freshwater protected area system as ‘locking up’ areas. This taskforce did not progress.

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