Where particular conservation groups had an interest in river restoration, there was clear potential for effective engagement with the NFS. Some involvement pre-dated the NFS. In the early 2000s, several workshops which addressed specific native fish management issues within the MDB were organised by the Inland Rivers Network and World Wildlife Fund Australia, with support from the then MDBC. Workshops included ‘The way forward on weirs’ in 2000, ‘Thermal pollution of the MDB waterways’ in 2001 and ‘Managing fish translocations and stocking in the MDB’ in 2002. The findings of these workshops helped inform the development and implementation of the NFS.
The Inland Rivers Network, a coalition of environment groups and individuals interested in the management of rivers, wetlands and groundwaters of the MDB, had a clear interest in activities associated with the NFS.
The CST included a conservation representative from its outset, and over time included members from the World Wildlife Fund For Nature (WWF) and the Australian Conservation Foundation. The NFS, and particularly the CST, provided an important unifier for different groups, such as conservationists, irrigators and recreational anglers to come together, identify shared common ground and explore avenues to progress healthy rivers.
NFS Coordinators and CST members interacted with representatives from conservation groups, providing resources such as flyers and the book Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin, and occasionally giving presentations about the NFS program. The NFS also provided assistance to the WWF during the development of a 2006 book Alien Fish in the Murray-Darling Basin. Members of conservation groups were also invited to attend NFS workshops and forums, where they were able to actively engage with the broad range of other stakeholders, share ideas and discuss particular issues associated with river management and conservation. NFS members also participated in a 2009 meeting run by a suite of conservation groups ‘Droughts, deserts and water resources: challenges and opportunities in conserving the indigenous freshwater fishes of Australia’.
Associations were also formed with local conservation groups, where NFS Coordinators provided resources and advice for local activities and contributed to newsletters. The NFS was also able to learn from the experiences of conservation groups. For example, Environment Victoria’s Storyline project celebrated people’s connection to Murray River wetlands through digital storytelling. The NFS adopted a similar approach during the Talking Fish project.
There are particular examples of groups whose members took lead roles in recovery efforts for threatened fish species. Michael Hammer and others from Native Fish Australia (and Aquasave consultancy) prepared a Reintroduction Plan for the Southern Purple-spotted Gudgeon in the southern MDB and were instrumental in recovery efforts for this species as well as Southern Pygmy Perch, Murray Hardyhead and River Blackfish in South Australia.
While there are good examples of NFS engagement with conservation groups, there was great potential to achieve stronger connections and pursue common goals.