Rocky Barra Bounty angler Stephen Pill with one of his impressive catches.
Rocky Barra Bounty angler Stephen Pill with one of his impressive catches.

Fishing can provide real measure of river's worth

WHAT is being achieved through the annual Rocky Barra Bounty should spark other river cities to consider how fishing can shape future decisions.

While the Bremer River running through Ipswich is a poor cousin to waterways like Central Queensland's Fitzroy catchment, fish researcher Stefan Sawynok offers some thought- provoking views.

He said a major benefit of competitions like the recent Rocky Barra Bounty was it gave the community "a sense of where the river is at.''

"We did a survey back a few years ago due to another project and one of the things which the community said was how they gauge the health of the river is what the fishing is like,'' Sawynok said.

"If the fishing is good, the community associate that as being in a healthy state. And the better the fishing, the more healthy they say it is.

"While that is a somewhat simplistic view of it, the fact that the community ties fishing and river health together is actually I think a really good thing.''

He said the bounty had played an important role in gaining the community's goodwill support.

"While it was a huge political battle, I think the community overall was quite happy with the idea of a net-free zone because they associated good fishing conditions with the health of the river,'' he said.

"It's a security blanket for the community. Every year we have this tournament, which checks the state of the river and it gives that data back to the community and it says 'right, the river is in good condition, or is in bad condition'.

"If it is not, we are going to know straight away.''

At this year's bounty, the overall number of fish caught was down due to freshwater flooding.

However, the average size (65cm) and quality of the fish (90cm) caught in the cleaner stretches of the Fitzroy River were well up on previous years.

"I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the commercial nets aren't in place,'' Sawynok said.

"The fact that it is a net-free zone means that the fish are being really undisturbed during that time and not gone to ground.

"Happy days for them.''

The fish researcher said tracking captures through professional processes offered decision makers valuable information on what to do about changes and how to improve conditions.

"Most communities sitting on a river have no idea what state it is in,'' he said.

Having gained valuable insights at a conference in the US, Sawynok said using apps like Track My Fish had applications for commercial fishing and how to protect habitats.

"It is certainly the case that around the world, the tracking of recreational fishers and that sort of data collection is really actually only in its infancy,'' he said.

"And I think it's going to take probably a couple of years before we start to see that. But with the development of app-based technology, it means that more people can use it.''

He said the primary target of potential app users in the near future would be fishing clubs and at tournaments.

"That's where you tend to get a lot of fishing effort,'' he said.

"We work a little differently in our process to the way Fisheries work.

"Fisheries try to get a broad spectrum of fishers, and try to get all this particular data and stuff like that.

"That's great but what it tells you is a lot about fisherman. It doesn't necessarily always tell you much about the fishing, or the fish, and where the fish is at.

"It's good from a statistical harvest perspective but it's not necessarily much use in terms of where the fishery is up to, what are the real conditions.

"So we tend to focus on that top 20 percent of fishers, the guys who fish in clubs, tournaments, all that kind of stuff when they are catching a lot of fish because that's the real indicator of where the fish is.''

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