May 032014

The ConversationOriginal story by Tom Rayner, Charles Darwin University and Richard Kingsford at The Conversation

Wetlands and rivers need water – not least in the case of Australia’s biggest river system, the Murray-Darling Basin, which has been the target of an “environmental watering” plan designed to preserve its water levels and quality.
Water management in the Murray-Darling may be inadvertently helping the common carp at the expense of native fish. Photo: Tom Rayner

Water management in the Murray-Darling may be inadvertently helping the common carp at the expense of native fish. Photo: Tom Rayner

But our research shows that, during the 2010-11 floods, measures taken to manage water levels and preserve local wildlife ended up helping alien species, such as the troublesome common carp.

A helping hand for fish

Environmental watering programs are used worldwide to replenish previously degraded catchments. One of the ways to test how well they are working is to look at what happens to native fish. Our evidence suggests that efforts in the Murray-Darling, although on the right track, might need some refinement to ensure we help the right species.

The 2010-11 episode also highlights the difficulty of performing what amounts to “environmental triage” on degraded river systems such as the Murray-Darling, while still ensuring that everything stays in balance. Continue reading »

Apr 182014

Original story by , Canberra Times

Along the bottom of the beautiful Murrumbidgee gorge south of Canberra science is turning up the heat on huge carp.
Senior fisheries technician Prue McGuffie of the NSW Department of Primary Industries with a carp that didn't get away. Photo: Jay Cronan

Senior fisheries technician Prue McGuffie of the NSW Department of Primary Industries with a carp that didn’t get away. Photo: Jay Cronan

In the first project to track carp in an upland river system in NSW, data will be gathered to learn seasonal migration patterns and the best opportunities to trap large numbers of aggregating carp.

Using fine nets and electro fishing, researchers gathered in carp, cod and freshwater prawns on Tuesday.

Acoustic tags were inserted into some of the big carp, which were released back into the eight-metre-deep hole at Bush Heritage Australia’s ”Scottsdale” reserve.

The tag sends out a ping to a listening station in a white buoy in the river. Every time a tagged fish passes, the station records a ping, enabling researchers to download information every few months.

Other carp were dissected to remove their ear bone to determine their age, a key to analysing population structure and determining good years of spawning.

Senior NSW Fisheries technician Prue McGuffie, who netted the hulking, slimy green and grey carp, also kept a watch out for endangered Macquarie perch, which she is researching.

Ms McGuffie netted two cod fingerlings that she will genetically test to determine if they are Murray cod or trout cod.

Meanwhile, on the banks with varying vested interests, scientists, a fly fisherman and a potato farmer’s son watched intensely as a four-kilometre stretch of the river was netted.

Fisherman Steve Samuels is providing local knowledge for the project, and can recount the 1970s when the Murrumbidgee teemed with spawning silver perch. ”You’d only see one or two carp,” he said. ”Trout were all the way up the river.”

Laurence Koenig, whose family grows organic garlic and potatoes on ”Ingelara” next door to Scottsdale, was there to collect dead carp, humanely dispatched in a tub of ice.

Mr Koenig hopes researchers will continue to catch carp from the big hole. It could give him a tonne of fertiliser at each trapping session.

University of Canberra ecologist Mark Lintermans netted the hole overnight for juvenile Macquarie perch, but came up empty-handed.

”They are a long-lived species, so that is not a problem; it just means they have missed a year,” Dr Lintermans said.

Bush Heritage regional manager Peter Saunders said data would determine the best carp removal and control options to safeguard native fish. “We hope this work will fill a gap in Australia’s understanding of carp biology and behaviour in upland river systems, and guide new trials for targeted carp removal to better protect our native fish and river habitats,” he said.

Dr Lintermans said that if carp moved broadly along the river, trapping may not be effective. If they stayed in one spot, they could be controlled.

Observations so far show carp will jump barriers like waterfalls, whereas native fish will not. Carp will congregate in warmer pockets of the river and, at other times, for bait feeding or spawning. Dr Lintermans said Murray cod were rare in that section of the river.

Apr 152014

Original story by  Jake Sturmer, ABC News

Researchers in New South Wales have begun a trial to search for the “Achilles heel” of carp.
Carp Etch. Image: DAFF Qld

Carp Etch. Image: DAFF Qld

The introduced species is considered to be one of the world’s most invasive and scientists say they are Australia’s worst aquatic pest.

The project will tag and track carp in the upper Murrumbidgee River, which have played a part in the significant decline of native fish.

Scientists estimate 90 per cent of all native fish have been lost in the river since European settlement.

University of Canberra Associate Professor Mark Lintermans says the fish have had a significant impact on the waterways.

“[They compete] for food, they carry parasites that then spread on to native fish,” he said.

“There’s even a suggestion that they might be hoovering up eggs of native fish as they feed along the bottom.”

The research is being done with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and Bush Heritage Australia in its Scottsdale Reserve.

“This project is initially about gathering information – there’s a gap of knowledge of the carp in the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee,” reserve manager Peter Saunders said.

“So we’re looking to understand what they’re doing, where they’re aggregating, what their populations are and how they’re breeding and where they’re breeding.

“Then [we plan to] expand that project into actually starting to remove them to benefit the native fish which we know are in here in small numbers.”

Local angler and member of the Capital Region Fishing Alliance, Steve Samuels, says a lot has changed since he began fishing in the river in the 1970s.

“There was Murray Cod, Golden Perch, Silver Perch – it was a wonderful place to fish,” he said.

“But today as you see it, the water’s a lot dirtier and carp now dominate as the most prolific fish in the system.”


Mar 272014

News release from Queen’s University, Belfast

Queen's University, Belfast

One of the most serious threats to global biodiversity and the leisure and tourism industries is set to increase with climate change according to new research by Queen’s University Belfast.

Researchers at Queen’s have found that certain invasive weeds, which have previously been killed off by low winter temperatures, are set to thrive as global temperatures increase.

The team based at Quercus, Northern Ireland’s centre for biodiversity and conservation science research, predicts that invasive waterweeds will become more widespread over the next 70 years.

Floating pennywort - Comber. Photo: John Early

Floating pennywort – Comber. Photo: John Early

The researchers say that additional management and legislation will be required if we are to stop the spread of these pest species.

Four species in particular could establish in areas on average 38 per cent larger than previously thought due to projected climatic warming. The water fern, parrot’s feather, leafy elodea and the water primrose, are already highly problematic throughout warmer parts of Europe. Invasive species are considered to be one of the most serious threats to global biodiversity, along with climate change, habitat loss and nutrient addition.

The estimated annual cost of invasive species (plants and animals) to the UK economy is £1.8 billion, with £57 million of impact on waterways including boating, angling and waterway management.

Funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), the research has been published in the journal Diversity and Distributions. It looked at the global distributions of 15 invasive plant species over a 69 year period.

Dr Ruth Kelly, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s, who led the study, said: “Traditionally upland areas have been protected by low winter temperatures which kill off these invading weeds. Now these are likely to become increasingly vulnerable to colonisation.

“On the island of Ireland currently about six per cent of the island is unsuitable for these invasive species but we think this will drop to less than one per cent by 2080. This type of research from Queen’s is an example of how we are creating a more sustainable future and shows how monitoring the impact climate change is having is important for many reasons. This project will allow the NIEA and other agencies to begin their planning on how to address future issues and ensure our waterways remain a valuable economic and recreational resource.”

Dr Kelly added: “It’s not all bad news, however, as our most common invasive waterweed, the Canadian pondweed, is likely to become less vigorous perhaps allowing space for restoration of waterways and native plant communities.”

Dr Michael Meharg, from the NIEA, said: “Invasive waterweeds can be a major problem in lakes and rivers throughout Britain and Ireland. Such plants are fast growing and often form dense mats of vegetation which may block waterways and cause problems for boating and fishing, and, therefore, to the leisure and tourism industries. Dr Kelly’s research is crucial in planning for the future as we know invasive waterweeds will also out-compete native aquatic plants species and alter habitats for insects and fish.”

The full research paper is available here:

Mar 212014

Original story by Virginia Tapp, ABC Rural

An introduced fish species has been discovered in what was previously one of the country’s last remaining pest-free river systems.
Plague Minnow (Gambusia holbrooki), also known as the Mosquito fish.

Plague Minnow (Gambusia holbrooki), also known as the Mosquito fish.

Fish ecologists Alf Hogan and Terry Vallance made the discovery while surveying the Leichardt river in north-west Queensland.

They believe the Plague Minnow (Gambusia holbrooki) could have devastating impacts on native fish populations.

Sketch of a female Plague minnow fish. Image: Southern Gulf Catchments

Sketch of a female Plague minnow fish. Image: Southern Gulf Catchments

The species was originally introduced from America to control the mosquito population and already exists in plague proportions on Queensland’s east coast.

They have spread through the Leichhardt River system, which has a catchment area of approximately 33,000 square kilometres, and there is little hope for eradication.

Local environment worker Mick Brady says the Plague Minnow will attack larger, native species.

“Any pest animal or plant or weed species can be a problem, just because they outcompete native animals for food and habitat.

“This particular fish is really aggressive. They say they bite the fins of natives, they can eat the eggs of native fish, and it upsets the whole ecology of the area.”

It is believed the fish were deliberately released into the Leichardt River.

Any sightings of non-native fish species should be reported immediately to the 24-hour Fishwatch hotline 1800 017 116.

Mar 192014

Original story at the Daily Liberal

FOUR men have been issued thousands of dollars in fines after pleading guilty to illegally targeting native inland species in the Macquarie River in 2012.

Qld Boating and Fisheries PatrolThe four men, from Gunnedah, have each been fined $2500 in addition to $600 in court costs for using illegal fishing methods to target native inland species, including using excess hand-held lines, prohibited baits and possessing a number of prohibited fishing items.

The charges stem back to February 2012, where fisheries officers caught the men while conducting patrols of the Macquarie River near Warren.

Officers apprehended the men, aged 20 to 29, and seized 90 rigged handlines, 11 drift lines, a monofilament cast net, seven prohibited traps and 23 live carp.

Two of the men also pleaded guilty to not paying the recreational fishing fee.

Department of Primary Industries fisheries supervisor Jason Baldwin said the conviction sends a clear message about the use of illegal and excessive fishing gear, for those who choose to flout the law.

“It is against the law to set and leave hand lines unattended, fishers must be within 50 metres and within line of sight of their fishing lines,” Mr Baldwin said.

“Fishers must know the rules and pay the recreational fishing fee before you hit the water or pay the price.”

To report illegal fishing in New South Wales, visit your nearest fisheries office, report online at or call the Fishers Watch Phoneline in 1800 043 536.

To report unlawful fishing in Queensland, call the 24-hour Fishwatch hotline on 1800 017 116 (toll free within Queensland) or visit

Mar 132014

ABC NewsOriginal story by  Chrissy Arthur and Ash Moore, ABC News

Bush Heritage Australia says it is hoping recent flooding in an inland river system will help an endangered fish species.

Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis. Photo: © Gunther Schmida

Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis. Photo: © Gunther Schmida

Aquatic ecologist Adam Kerezy has been working for years to save the tiny red-finned blue-eye fish [Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis] from extinction.

It is only found in natural springs in central western Queensland.

Adam Kereszy at Edgbaston. Photo: Tim Bauer

Adam Kereszy at Edgbaston. Photo: Tim Bauer

Dr Kerezy says it is also seeking permission to move some of the remaining fish into captivity.

“So they only get to about three centimetres long, they only live in that particular group of springs north-east of Aramac,” he said.

“The crucial thing is we have got an invasive species called gambusia, or mosquito fish or bore drain fish, and they are out there too and so my job over the last six years has been basically to try and stop them [red-finned blue-eye fish] from going extinct.

“Hopefully they will be breeding up a bit, some of them will be trying to move to new springs.

“Hopefully this year we will move some into captivity and then cross fingers and toes and everything we have got and hope that they survive but for a fish that has adapted to living in these tiny shallow springs in the middle of nowhere, it might take a little bit of work to get them to adapt to captive conditions.”

Mar 032014

Original story at ABC Rural

A study is trying to identify the best cane toad call to attract the pests into traps.

Researchers are touring northern Australia, recording and identifying the most seductive calls which cane toads use.

Research assistant Richard Duffy says the mating call from male toads attracts both sexes.

Research Assistant Richard Duffy hunting for cane toad calls in northern Australia. Photo: Tyne McConnon

Research Assistant Richard Duffy hunting for cane toad calls in northern Australia. Photo: Tyne McConnon

“Males will assemble themselves around a body of water and they will call and do their best to sound their greatest.

“But also sometimes you attract males as well because males may have a better chance of finding a female if they go and sit next to Barry White on the edge of the water.”

The four year study is trying to make cane toad traps, more efficient and attractive to toads.

PhD student and researcher Kiyomi Yasumiba says she believes the deeper calls are the most popular.

“In general it’s the males with low frequency calls and who have a large body size.”

Mr Duffy and Ms Yasumiba have collected sounds from Queensland and Western Australia.

Mr Duffy says they are collecting calls from various states as they believe there are different calls for different groups of toads.

“We are going to compare different sites to see whether there are regional dialects, different accents from Queensland and Western Australia.”

The study will record 30 individual toad calls from each location which will then be tested.

Ms Yasumiba says the calls are tested by placing a toad in an area with different calls playing, then documenting which way the toad heads.

Feb 212014

Original story by , Sydney Morning Herald

The world’s first continent-wide survey of reef sea life has found big fish gone around much of the Australian coastline.

Exhaustive: Jemima Stuart-Smith collects data for the first continent-wide survey of reef sea life which ended in Hobart. Photo: Rick Stuart-Smith

Exhaustive: Jemima Stuart-Smith collects data for the first continent-wide survey of reef sea life which ended in Hobart. Photo: Rick Stuart-Smith

A year-long circumnavigation of Australia ended in Hobart on Wednesday with a trove of data from 700 coral and rock reef sites surveyed by volunteer divers for the Reef Life Survey Foundation.

It’s not just over-fishing, it’s the spread of invasive species.

Program co-founder Graham Edgar, of the University of Tasmania, said the first comprehensive study of any continent’s reef systems found biodiversity losses, compared to earlier local counts.

”Virtually all of our coastline has had all the larger predatory organisms reduced – from the big fishes to the lobsters,” said Professor Edgar, from the UTAS Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies.

”It’s not just over-fishing, it’s the spread of invasive species and problems such as pollution when you get near metropolitan areas.”

His 14-metre catamaran Reef Dragon served as dive platform on a 12,000 nautical mile circumnavigation while 75 trained divers examined the life on reefs up to 400 nautical miles offshore. The odyssey took the divers from the pitch dark waters of Port Davey in south-west Tasmania to spectacular Osprey Reef, a sheer-walled coral atoll off far north Queensland.

Pioneering collections of biological information were made in the Coral Sea and off the North-West Shelf on the way down the West Australian coast and back to Tasmania, where Reef Dragon docked in a Derwent River marina.

Professor Edgar said the final report card was ”a mixed bag”.

”Some of the reefs are doing really well, particularly off the North-West Shelf where there are good numbers of large fish,” he said. ”Elsewhere coral reefs are seriously degraded by bleaching. There have been some massive changes out of sight in the marine environment.”

Data collected on this, and other surveys, is making its way into what the New York Times said in an editorial this week was eye-opening work by Professor Edgar and other Tasmanian researchers.

According to a study published this month in Nature, the best protection for marine life comes in reserves that are likely to be ”no-take”, well-enforced, more than 10 years old, more than 100 square kilometres, and isolated by deep water or sand.

The New York Times said: ”Marine-protected areas are clearly a positive trend, a reflection of the growing awareness of governments across the globe that the oceans and their bounty are not limitless or indestructible.”

Australia’s 3.1 million square kilometre system of marine reserves is in doubt after the federal government’s decision to scrap most of the network’s management plans and no-take zones. An expert scientific panel will examine the science behind the reserves, and advisory panels are to be chosen to improve stakeholder consultation.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt is yet to announce membership of the panels.

Feb 072014

Original story by Michèle Jedlicka, The Inverell Times

Biodiversity and sustainability along the Macintyre River in Inverell will be helped along with a dose of funding.

Macintyre River, Inverell, NSW. Photo: Cgoodwin, Wikimedia Commons

Macintyre River, Inverell, NSW. Photo: Cgoodwin, Wikimedia Commons

Inverell Shire Council has secured a grant for $13,625 to eradicate weeds from the river’s banks. The project will focus on woody weeds along an 800 metre stretch between Clive Street and the Tingha Bridge.

Removing weeds will make room for native vegetation, and improve fish habitat by providing shade, cover, water temperature regulation and a food source for native fish.

The funding comes from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, out of $570,000 awarded to recreational angling clubs, community groups, landholders and local councils for 30 fish habitat projects.

Minister for Agriculture Katrina Hodgkinson said projects cover many popular coastal and inland fishing spots in NSW, with nearly $1.1 million committed as in-kind support from the successful applicants.

 “These grants are funded through the Recreational Fishing Trusts,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

“The program was highly competitive with 71 applications submitted and there was strong support by local recreational anglers for the applications.”

Weed control activities along the Macintyre River will be completed during 2014 and will include initial weed control and follow up spot spraying activities on any re-growth.

Inverell council general manager Paul Henry said the project is one of many identified when completing the council’s river plan. A river planner targeted 15 trouble spots.

Mr Henry said local community groups have expressed interest in addressing specific issues along the river.

“The Inverell Rotary Club put their hand up to look at the area near John Northey look-out/Kurrajong Park. They looked at repairing that area and planting out the areas with native plants to try to rejuvenate (it) and create a link all along the river for birds and animal habitat.”

He said the grant money will tackle invasive introduced weeds along the high bank level. Once cleared, replanting may begin.

Phil Sutton is the environment compliance co-ordinator for council and indicated the project has other benefits besides environmental restoration.

He said the project would help to increase public awareness about the weeds control and prevention.

“It’s an effort to provide a flow-on benefit to landholders and communities further down the river. Obviously if you don’t treat (weeds) now, they go further down the river.”

Contract sprayers will be engaged to treat the weeds and Phil said it will be a 12 month project with wildlife sustainability in mind.

“What the area will be treated with is a weed-control agent that is a bioactive control, which doesn’t affect the riparian area; it doesn’t affect the water or the frogs or anything like that.”