Emergency responses for managing native fish

Emergency responses for managing native fish

Following record low inflows into the Murray-Darling Basin in 2006, and large bushfires in several catchments, the likely need for fish rescues and other crisis management actions was high.  It was decided that a standardised protocol and contingency plan was required to guide such emergency responses. Workshops were held in 2007 and 2011 in Adelaide to develop these outputs.

What is an emergency response?

Emergency responses are defined as those which occur under short timeframes, and cannot be planned for. If events can be predicted and there is enough time to plan, then it is not considered an emergency. An emergency response or crisis can apply to:

  • consequence of drought;
  • fire;
  • blackwater/water quality issues;
  • chemical spills;
  • alien incursions;
  • disease;
  • infrastructure failure;
  • flooding; and,
  • coldwater shock.

An initial workshop focusing on fish emergency response activities was held in November 2007.  Using relevant case studies of emergency responses the workshop aims were to:

  • Identify issues addressed by undertaking fish emergency responses rescues and translocations and captive maintenance;
  • Document and summarise relevant legislation and technical considerations around disease, genetics, husbandry and monitoring/evaluation;
  • Document best practice methodologies to be utilised for decision making (triggers) as a generic flow chart;
  • Investigate the implications for threatened species and drought recovery planning and incorporate consideration of drought impacts on recovery; and
  • Develop a basin wide consistent approach to undertaking emergency responses.

Following the breaking of the Millennium drought in 2010 and subsequent blackwater events, a workshop was held in September 2011 to revisit emergency response strategies developed following the 2007 workshop. Outcomes from the 2007 workshop formed the basis for the development of Basin-wide management guidelines for emergency responses and planning.


The 2007 workshop identified that although there had been many examples of previous emergency responses, there was no formal policy in place to guide responses in a coordinated and timely manner.  The work around fish rescues often occurred reactively and with little planning, leaving limited time to implement proactive actions to aid the recovery of fish populations.

A draft protocol was developed that could guide future fish rescues under a crisis as well as increase the survival rate of threatened and non threatened native fish species in the Basin. In 2011 the workshop reviewed and updated the draft protocol from 2007 to a Decision Support Framework to guide emergency management responses.

A range of ‘primary triggers’ were identified (e.g. things that can indicate a crisis event may occur (such as rainfall leading to flooding or blackwater events), as well as crisis triggers (e.g. declining water quality, water levels, presence of alien species).

Implications for native fish

At the 2007 Workshop a number of recommendations were made on a variety of aspects of emergency responses.  The following principles were agreed to guide the decision making for emergency responses:

  1. In situ conservation measures should be formally considered before considering ex situ measures.
  2. Translocation of native fauna is a valuable tool in efforts to recover extinct or threatened species and restore degraded ecological systems.
  3. Re-introduction and re-stocking of indigenous Australian species of fauna can have adverse impacts on the target species, other species and ecological communities if planning and site preparation are inadequate.
  4. Other management actions associated with translocation programs may have adverse impacts on the target species, other species and ecological communities
  5. Translocation proposals should consider the ethical implications as they relate to animals released and animals present at the release site.
  6. Captive husbandry has the potential to alter the genetic composition and behavioural response of populations and individuals (founder effects, predator naivety, boldness etc).
  7. The decision making process must be documented and a formal review undertaken on completion.
  8. It is essential that all approvals and permits required are obtained prior to undertaking interventions.

The Decision Support Framework developed at the 2011 workshop contained 7 steps outlined as follows:

  1. Identifying the asset at risk (species/population/areas)
  2. Assessing and documenting the impact zone, risk, and threats,
  3. Determining the impacts if no action is taken
  4. Determining the consequences at various spatial/statutory scales (national/state/regional/local)
  5. Determining whether interventions are feasible and what interventions can occur
  6. Determining the impacts of the proposed action
  7. Determining the likelihood of success of the proposed action


Guzman. I, Higham. J and Hall. A. 2007 (Draft). 2007 Native Fish Emergency Response Workshop. Summary, abstract and recommendations. Proceedings of a workshop held in Adelaide SA 21st-22nd November 2007. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Australia.

Lintermans, M. and Cottingham, P. (eds.) (2007). Fish out of water-lessons for managing native fish during drought. Final report of the Drought Expert Panel. MDBC Publication No. 20/07, Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.

Hammer, M., Wedderburn, S. and Van Weeren, J. (2009). Action Plan for South Australian freshwater fishes. Native Fish Australia (SA), Adelaide.

Hammer, M., Barnes, T., Piller, L. and Sortino, D. (2012). Reintroduction Plan for the Souther Purple-spotted Gudgeon in the southern Murray-Darling Basin. Techniocal report, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Canberra.

Meredith, S. and Beesley, L. (2009). Watering floodplain wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin to benefit fish: a discussion with managers. Department of Primary Industries, Victoria.

Tonkin, Z., King, A.J. and Mahoney, J. (2008). Effects of flooding on recruitment and dispersal of the Southern Pygmy Perch (Nannoperca australis) at a Murray River floodplain wetland. Ecological Management and Restoration, 9(3), 196-201.

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