Native fish in abundance in Queensland after floods improve habitat, diet, health

Hiding beneath the surface of Queensland’s vast river systems, 11 native fish species that call the waterways home are springing back to vibrant health.

The flowing water from this year’s floods has brought long-term benefits to native fish, reinvigorating their habitat, and increasing their food sources.

Once cut off, these isolated waterways are now connected, allowing for critical breeding and genetic diversity.

Ozfish Limited project officer for the northern basin, Harry Davey, said the floods had demonstrated the natural cycle of the ecosystem.

“It’s amazing how resilient our Australian natives are. They’ve been through this wet and dry process for thousands and thousands of years,” he said.

“It’s a time of abundance. We’re probably going to have one of the best breeding seasons that we’ve seen for a long time in regard to Murray cod.

“With the flows, we’re now also seeing fish from faraway areas turning up in our river systems up here from Menindee Lakes and South Australia.”

Hooked on fishing

A man in a fluro shirt holding a fish.
Miles District Fishing Club president Peter Delaforce says Murray cod are being caught in the Western Downs again.(Supplied: Peter Delaforce)

For those keen on wetting a line, it is music to the ears.

A favourite pastime of many, fishing has been a challenge during the dry years when a crucial element was missing — water.

But at the recent Goondiwindi fishing classic competition, 263 native fish were caught.

Miles District Fishing Club president Peter Delaforce said the floods had brought renewed excitement.

“Going back a couple of years, you could pretty well walk across most of the inland waterways knee to waist deep, it was very hard to catch fish at all,” he said.

“It’s been many years since anyone out here has caught a Murray cod … looking at about a month ago, that was the first catch in town.”

The inflows not only boost the natural ecosystem but also lift the small towns that line the snaking river systems.

A river landscape with two small boats.
The Macintyre River on the Queensland-New South Wales border has experienced many floods this year, improving fish health.(Supplied: Rebecca Cover)

Mr Delaforce said when the water arrived, tourists followed.

“We find people are coming out from Brisbane, there’s a good following from Ipswich and then we travel out west,” he said.

“It’s huge for tourism, and especially all the bait and tackle shops, the motels, the service stations, they all benefit from good fishing in Western Queensland.

Battle with introduced species

A bucket full of silver fish.
Carp, a pest species, remains an issue in Queensland and New South Wales rivers.(Supplied: Southern Queensland Landscapes)

While the introduced carp species remains an issue in Queensland’s waterways, a survey conducted in one of inland Australia’s most important wetlands tells a different story.

The wetlands in Curranwinya National Park, near Hungerford in western Queensland, have recorded a decline in the pest species in three years of studies.

Fish biologist Adam Kerezsy, who worked alongside Southern Queensland Landscapes on the project, said it was a surprising result.

“We’re not getting many carp; carp numbers seem to be way down compared to history and also compared with everywhere else in the Murray Darling Basin,” Dr Kerezsy said.

“Native fish have evolved to live there over millennia, whereas carp have only been there for 100 years or so.

“Because they’re doing that reasonably successfully, maybe, just maybe, they’re out-competing carp this time.”

The reason behind the decline in carp numbers in the national park remained uncertain, but Dr Kerezsy said the inflows were a benefit to all.

A person's hands holding a fish.
Anglers in the western Downs are catching an abundance of yellowbelly thanks to recent flood events.(Supplied: Southern Queensland Landscapes)

“The main native fish we’ve got out there are actually the smaller ones, bony herring, spangled perch, and some of the smaller catfish. They really do explode,” Dr Kerezsy said.

“It really pushes the system along once you have a couple of wet years.”

A square blue tub full of fish, with a man leaning on it, with just his hands and arms visible.
The main native fish found in Currawinya National Park are smaller breeds such as Hyrtl’s tandan, a type of catfish.(Supplied: Southern Queensland Landscapes)

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