On 29 May 2014, if you’re in Cooma, try to get along to the public forum on the Snowy Mountains Lakes Trout Fishery. Your chance to let the good folk from fisheries know how it’s all going. Cooma Ex-Services Club at 6:00pm on Thursday 29 May 2014
Here’s a bit of history for you. A speech in Parliament in 2002 went as follows:
“In May last year after extensive community consultation the New South Wales Government introduced a plan to better manage trout fishing in the Snowy Mountains. This strategy includes Lake Jindabyne, Lake Eucumbene and Tantangara Reservoir. All local businesses and anglers had been concerned for some time about rainbow trout catches. A survey funded by freshwater anglers found that this prestigious fishery is worth up to $70 million a year. Each year 34,000 anglers visit this world-recognised region. The Snowy lakes trout strategy provides sensible measures to make sure that this fishery remains the best in Australia and that it continues to attract visitors, who support local businesses. The strategy protects spawning trout and reduces bag limits, making sure that all anglers get a fair chance to catch a fish. And we are working with the community in regard to New South Wales Government fish stockings. We have given a five-year guarantee of consistent trout stocking. That has never been done before. Each year Lake Eucumbene gets 150,000 rainbow trout fingerlings. Lake Jindabyne gets 50,000 rainbow trout fingerlings, 200,000 Atlantic salmon fry and 50,000 brook trout fry. The Tantangara Reservoir will remain a wild brown trout fishery.
I am pleased to advise the House that the strategy has been hailed as an outstanding success. The Snowy Mountains Lakes Working Group was established in December 2000 to help us develop this strategy. Last month its members met with the Director of NSW Fisheries in Cooma to review the progress and the implementation of the strategy. Representatives from the tackle and tourism industries, the Monaro Acclimatisation Society, angling media and the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority all attended the meeting. I am advised that the group was unanimous in its praise for the strategy, stating that it was the best thing to happen to the fishery for 20 years—high praise indeed from the Snowy Mountains trout industry. Large rainbow trout are now being caught consistently in Lake Eucumbene and a bumper summer season is being forecast. This year’s rainbow trout spawning run was the best for many years—more great news for anglers, visitors and local businesses. The success of this strategy is a magnificent achievement for New South Wales.”
As the then Director Fisheries I can say that the forum in Cooma was a robust meeting with a few fiery exchanges – particularly on bag limits. Apparently the Victorians wouldn’t come here on holiday if they couldn’t fill their eskies for the extended family back in Geelong. Over a decade later and the fishery has had a great run – until this year when the rainbows have been missing in their usual numbers.
Here’s my view. First, the fishery will bounce back. Trout stocks are no different to any other fish stock in that there need to be a range of conditions for the fishery to do well. A healthy spawning stock, good spawning habitat, good seasonal conditions in the river (rainfall and temperature), a good flood to move the fish down into the lake, good lake habitat for fry, plenty of food and shelter, and stable lake levels. And when all that comes together we need to keep predators under control so the healthy spawning stock is maintained. Now there’s the rub. When I say predators, don’t jump to attack the cormorants and pelicans – sure they catch a lot of fish, and I’d prefer they didn’t, but it’s the humans who do the damage (in my humble opinion).
Two years ago we had a bumper year. The lake was high, there was plenty of food, and you could catch and release double figure bags on a good day. Word got out and for a while it was standing room only. Every man and his dog got their rods out and gave it a go. Last year, the good times rolled on but by early 2013 catch rates were falling dramatically.
When the spawning season arrived the clouds of rainbows we see in the river just weren’t there. We watched, and hoped, but they didn’t come in their usual numbers.
The browns meanwhile have been our saviour. Last year’s spawning run was exceptional and all through the early part of this season you could rely on a brown or two in the evening, as a consolation prize for the missing rainbows. But after Christmas even this has slowed because even that stock can be fished down.
So we’re treating this as a boom bust fishery for both stocks. The fish stocks get up, word gets out, everyone turns up, the fish get hammered, everyone goes fishing somewhere else. In 2016 we will probably have a good rainbow year again, and so on. Is this how we want to manage our fishery?
Of the success factors I listed, most are out of our control – in the main they’re environmental. We can’t control the weather, and we can’t control the lake levels. The spawning habitat is in the National Park so is well protected. What we need to control is predation by humans. We need to share the resource better amongst ourselves. We need to reduce bag and possession limits to 2 and 4, and introduce a boat possession limit of 6. We should have a zero bag limit on the Eucumbene and Thredbo rivers all year. We need to try something brave to even out the peaks and troughs between the years.
Economically, to the region, the consequences of bad years are shocking. Anglers stay away, the camp sites, pubs and shops are deathly quiet. So we need to do better and we need to try something new.
I will be in the UK on 29 May so won’t be at the forum, but I have let people know what I think. Please do the same. And as a p.s. to all that, low catch rates doesn’t keep me away, but it would be nice to have just the odd rainbow for the smoker!
NSW DPI Fisheries Media Release
Fishers are invited to attend a public forum on the Snowy Mountains Lakes trout fishery with Department of Primary Industries (DPI) managers and scientists in Cooma on 29 May 2014.
DPI Inland Senior Fisheries Manager, Cameron Westaway, said some fishers have reported reduced catches of rainbow trout in Lakes Jindabyne and Eucumbene during the past two years.
“While brown trout catches have continued to remain stable in the lakes and the brown trout spawning fishery has been excellent, we have received reports of lower rainbow trout catches from some fishers using traditional surface and shore based fishing methods – while other fishers have reported good catches using deeper trolling methods,” Mr Westaway said.
“Various theories for these changes in catch rates have been suggested by the public. These fisheries provide significant social and economic benefits to the region and we are committed to their long term success.
“The forum will give fishers the opportunity to hear about the current trout stocking program, management practices, and updates on research.
“Leading New Zealand scientist Dr Michel Dedual from the Department of Conservation in Turangi will provide insights into the iconic Taupo trout fishery which has also experienced changes in catch rates of rainbow trout in recent times.
“Importantly the forum will enable DPI managers to gain feedback from the fishing public on some of the most popular trout fishing locations in NSW. This feedback will assist DPI and the angler based Snowy Lakes Strategy Working Group who provide direct advice on the management of the fishery.
“Interested fishers are invited to attend the free forum at the Cooma Ex-Services Club at 6:00pm on Thursday 29 May 2014.”
Fishers are also reminded that it will be a great opportunity to fish the Thredbo River and Eucumbene River trout spawning runs before the trout closed season begins on 10 June 2014.