Talking Fish

Upper MurrumbidgeeThe ongoing review of the NFS highlighted that engagement with recreational fishers and the Indigenous community, in particular, could be enhanced. This was the impetus for the Talking Fish project which acknowledged the important relationship people have with their local rivers and fish within the Murray-Darling Basin. Within these relationships a wealth of historical information about rivers and fish was held and it was recognised that this needed to be captured.

Like the True Tales of Trout Cod project, the Talking Fish project aimed to acknowledge and record these relationships. Listening to peoples’ stories within Talking Fish clearly demonstrated the risks of ‘creeping normalcy’ where a major change can be accepted as the normal situation if it happens slowly, in unnoticed increments. By accessing and recording peoples’ stories of the river, its fish and how these have changed, this can help us shape future management decisions.

The Talking Fish project team, which was managed by the NSW DPI (Fisheries), represented a collaboration between oral historians, state fisheries and conservation agencies, and regional natural resource management organisations.

Talking Fish involved oral history interviews with local fishers in 2010-11, focussing on 12 river reaches across the Basin. The project showcased how people knew their river through personal experience, supporting their stories with scientific and historical research. These recollections demonstrated how peoples’ perspectives can be very different, but are all important and valid.  Just as individual fishers often may not agree with each other, so their understanding may not agree with current scientific information and historical records. By presenting these three perspectives on the past together, the reader is able to make up their own mind.

This project presented the interviews as booklets and radio segments. The booklets were deliberately styled in a format very different from regular government reports, partly due to the recognition that there tends to be an element of distrust of information provided by government sources and partly because recreational fishers get a lot of information from other fishers and people they know. Each story provided detail of the person’s background interwoven with their experiences, allowing the reader to get to know them better and make a connection.

The Talking Fish project recognised that there were many other great stories out there about fishing in the Murray-Darling Basin. It was hoped that these oral histories were just the beginning of a ongoing conversation on the history of management within the Murray-Darling Basin and how this can inform its future management.


Talking Fish – making connections with the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin

A compilation booklet was also produced which includes an overarching introduction, the reach stories, as well as relevant resources and references for each reach. It is available for download in sections:

The outputs of the Talking Fish project were launched during Native Fish Awareness Week in 2011, across multiple sites within the Basin.

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