For our final True Tales of the Trout Cod: River Histories of the Murray-Darling Basin, we explore the Riverina Catchment through photographs, newspaper articles and oral histories.
The term Riverina refers to the land between the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers, and the catchment is a complex of anabranches. The largest river is the Edward River.
Early Distribution of Fish
Oral History from Claude Handorf of Burrmbuttock
As a kid I went out there that was about 8 to 10 mile above the Walbundrie Weir, between there and Walla, my uncle lived out there. We often used to go out there and it was no problem to catch eight or ten Blackfish, 10, 12 up to 14 inches long.
Claude also recalled that ‘white eyes’ – Macquarie perch – were common in this area. There are early reports of Trout cod near Deniliquin. Macquarie perch weren’t considered as common as Golden or Silver perch in the Edward River. Golden perch were reported as being present in ‘countless numbers’ in the Yanco Creek. Catfish were also described as being abundant in the Edward River.
Newspaper accounts indicate that cod were abundant in the Edward River and supported a significant commercial fishery. Even smaller streams were considered reliable sources of cod. In 1909, local residents lobbied for restrictions to be placed on commercial fishing activity in the Edward River to conserve fish stocks close to Deniliquin.
The Changes To Habitat
In the early 1870s, the Edward River was extensively desnagged downstream of Moulamein to allow for boat passage. In 1878, a rain event generated a massive fish kill in the Edward River involving fish of all sizes, including cod and perch, as well as crustaceans.
By 1945, land clearing and grazing had resulted in much of the Riverina being affected by wind and water erosion.
The Changes to Fish Abundance
The abundance of Catfish rapidly declined in the early 1930s. By the 1940s, Macquarie perch were absent in the Gulpa creek and were not captured by professional fishermen in the Edward River near Murgah or the Billabong Creek after the 1950s. By the 1950s, it was evident that there was a decline in Blackfish numbers.
Trout cod underwent a dramatic decline between 1918 and 1930. Murray cod remained relatively abundant, and were common in the Edward River near Deniliquin until the late 1940s.
Goldfish and Redfin perch were introduced near Deniliquin in 1884. Redfin perch appear to have remained fairly scarce for a considerable period, being recorded in surveys in the Edward River in 1909 as only being present in ‘small quantities’ (NSW Fisheries Report, 1909). Around 1930, the proliferated in the Edward River, and their arrival in large numbers was associated with a rapid decline in the Catfish population, and a slower decline in the Murray cod fishery, with predation of juvenile cod being reported.
The Current Situation
The waters of the Riverina contain good stocks of Murray cod and Golden perch, with evidence of significant recovery in numbers of these two species over the past 20 years.
Silver perch have recovered, Catfish are very rare, Blackfish are scarce and Macquarie perch have not been reported for half a century. Small numbers of Trout cod have been captured in the Edward River near Mathoura.
The 2009 drought adversely affected fish populations in the smaller streams, with major fish kills in the Niemur River and the Colligen and Merran Creeks.
Riverina Catchment Map
The map below shows the location of the Riverina Catchment, including major waterways and key localities.
Sophie Van Dijk
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