Talk Wild Trout 2016

One of the standouts from the inaugural Wild Trout Conference last year was that so many different interests and opinions, from all facets of recreational fishing, came together to openly discuss the current condition of trout fishing in Victoria and it’s future management. It was, according to most I spoke to afterward, a great success and even the doubters I know seemed at least a little impressed. This year turned out little different except that the ambient conversation had changed from a drought-affected doom and gloom to a more positive collective outlook thanks to all the rain over the last few months. It’s obviously not a bad time to be a trout in Victoria, but what does the future hold?

Travis Dowling, Director Fisheries Victoria, welcomes a full house,  Photo: David Anderson

The research is ongoing, but second year results expressed in selected river health cards, collected by the Arthur Rylah Institute on behalf of Fisheries Victoria, show a general increase in brown trout populations in the measured rivers and indicate that 2015 turned out to be a pretty good year for trout recruitment with 2016 looking better again.

A positive from the research included a finding of over fifty trout per hundred metres in at least one site at several Victorian rivers including the Barkly, Goulburn, Howqua, Kiewa, King and Mitta Mitta. One site on the Howqua even managed one hundred trout per hundred metres. (We will follow up with a more in-depth rivers report soon)

In Dr. John Morrongiello’s talk “Climate change and trout – a way forward”, the opening graph of rain decline during the millennium drought (1997–2009) showed that most of Australia’s trout waters received rainfall that was well below average. Average temperatures have also increased dramatically over the last forty years, with extreme heat events increasing in frequency, the killer for trout when it comes to sustained temperatures over 24 degrees. This, combined with a large number of major bushfires and lengthening fire season have caused considerable damage to the watersheds of some of our most noted trout water. 

The challenges are clear for sustainable trout fisheries, with more severe weather events like droughts, floods and bushfires and more record hot days to continue into the future. Modelling suggests that these environmental changes could result in up to a fifty percent decline in trout range across Victoria. The good news is, with proper management and more angler involvement, we may be able to shore up our less marginal trout water to withstand increased temperatures. Fisheries are planning for higher water temperatures and its effects on trout range and population. It is clear from the results so far, that native streamside revegetation will relieve if no mitigate some of these challenges faced by reducing water temperature spikes, with new 3D modelling aiding the targeting of revegetation that will yield the greatest impact. 

Firstly, we are conducting a global review of the costs and benefits of practical options available to manage trout fisheries under a warmer and drier future. Options include targeted revegetation to maximise stream shade, improved management of dams and water flow, promoting changes in angler behaviour (e.g. voluntarily not fishing on hot days to reduce fish stress), the development of trout ‘sanctuaries’ (protecting cooler habitats) and barrier removal to allow trout to more readily move through systems.
Some of these options are obviously more feasible and have greater benefit than others, but it is essential that we objectively consider them all to ensure the best management decisions are made for the future.
Secondly, we are developing an easy-to-use tool that will help waterway managers to prioritise riparian revegetation works to maximise stream shading, and thus contribute to keeping trout streams as cool as possible.” 
Fisheries Victoria

Dr Amber Clarke, Jim Castles, Dr John Morrengiello, discuss the importance of bankside revegetation in reducing water temperature  Photo: David Anderson

If Climate change was the main theme at the conference, stocking was running an easy second. I know from the general level of conversation I’ve had with many Victorian fly fishers that it can be an extremely contentious issue, with some always screaming for more fish, and others screaming for all stocking to stop, full stop. But is there really a problem?

I asked Travis Dowling, Executive Director of Fisheries Victoria, if there was a change in the thinking on stocking given some of the contradictions in the data and the public relations.

It’s all about horses for courses. Stocking is really important in lots of impoundments and there’s good evidence it’s working in some of our tail-race rivers, but it’s not necessarily working in some of our highland rivers. So what we’ve got to do is tailor our programs to suit the environment that we’re working in.”
Travis Dowling

John Douglas, from Fisheries Victoria, spoke of stocking trials in the Howqua and upper Goulburn River, above Lake Eildon, that have been undertaken over three years from 2014 through 2016. Each year, lots of five thousand one-year-old brown trout are fin-clipped by volunteers in Mansfield and then released with follow-up surveys conducted to determine the if stocked trout boost existing population and if stocked fish develop into a spawning population. Key findings to date suggest that the stocked fish do survive in the rivers, but that the numbers are extremely low, with only a limited number of stocked fish surviving into a third year ideal for spawning. The reasons for the attrition rates are not clear but could relate to issues such as learnt hatchery behaviour, competition and predator vulnerability among others. Health Cards on key rivers also indicate that natural recruitment in many of these rivers is thriving making it difficult to justify further stocking in this manner.

The failure of stocking to increase populations in the Howqua and upper Goulburn rivers is not unique. Numerous stocking trials have taken place in various Victorian streams in the past, and most of these trials have had similar results. Similar results have also been reported from stocking studies in other countries too. It appears that where there is an existing breeding trout population, the natural population is more efficient at recovering the population than stocking fish into the system.”
Fisheries Victoria

 

John Douglas, Fisheries Victoria, raises questions around the effectiveness of river stocking in wild trout streams  Photo: David Anderson

Keynote speaker, renowned fly angler and conservationist April Vokey, spoke of stocking and its effects on wild trout and steelhead populations on her home waters in British Columbia. The issue can be very divisive, but anglers and other stakeholders are finding ways to work around their differences and come together on the bigger environmental issues and protection of the rivers. Compared to our North American and Canadian friends, we could all be taking a more active role as individuals to look after our limited trout resource. I don’t think just pointing a finger at Fisheries when the fishing is bad, or congratulating yourself when it’s good, is going to solve anything. It’s time to get involved.

 

April Vokey stresses the importance of community engagement in establishing sustainable wild trout fisheries,  Photo: David Anderson

Fisheries Victoria set a new bar for grassroots, angler involvement in fisheries management in Australia at the inaugural Wild Trout Conference last year and should be applauded for raising the bar yet again this year. No, we may not all agree on all points raised, but it’s rare that stakeholders get such a clear voice in government policy and such open access to the people who make it. With increased in funding and projects the opportunity has never been greater for anglers to get directly involved. There are many things we can agree on in improving our wild trout waters, and with focused community engagement, the sustainability of our Victorian trout fisheries is looking positive.

For more detail visit the Wild Trout Fisheries Management conference web page where links to conference findings and updates will be available:

http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/fisheries/recreational-fishing/talk-wild-trout-2016-conference

Or contact Taylor Hunt at [email protected]

April Vokey showed a video The Montana Story: Forty Years of Success, that provided some great insight into the turn around in the fishery in Montana after controversial beginnings.