Snowy River boasts the oldest freshwater fish in Australia

Who knew the Snowy River was home to the oldest freshwater fish in Australia?

A Snowy River Bass, caught in the Snowy River, was found to be 49 years old, older than the oldest recorded Murray Cod. Those present at the well-attended Snowy River Alliance annual general meeting were surprised to learn that the Snowy River holds the record for the oldest freshwater fish in Australia.

Guest speaker Robert Caune, of the Gippsland Angling Clubs Association and member of the Snowy Advisory Committee, said while it is the oldest freshwater fish ever found in Australia, he believes there are even older fish in the Snowy River.

Mr Caune said Snowy River Bass, also called Australian Bass, is a long-lived, slow-growing species.

“Mature adults migrate from freshwater to estuaries to spawn in early spring, triggered by minor flooding or increased in stream flow,” Mr Caune said.

Snowy River Alliance chair Elena Guarracino said it was concerning to hear that the last known successful recruitment of Snowy River Bass was in 1985, when there was a sustained high water event or minor flooding.

“The Alliance is hopeful the newly-formed Snowy Advisory Committee are focused on the need to ensure the environmental water releases will provide the right amount of water, at the right time to give fish like the Snowy River Bass a chance to spawn to maintain or increase its population,” Ms Guarracino said.

“The meeting was told that the Snowy River Bass cannot migrate up the river as they once did, prior to the Jindabyne Dam being built, as there is no longer enough water for them to navigate the river,” she said.

“So anglers are unlikely to see Bass near Dalgety any time soon, unless the river receives the recommended and legislated minimum 28 per cent flow. This year only about 12 per cent will be released,” Ms Guarracino added.

Steve Samuels, president of the Monaro Acclimatisation Society, the second guest speaker, made no apology for his organisation’s love and support for trout but acknowledged that trout are an introduced species and should be managed in a sensitive manner.

“Sure, there is an impact, but that is endured because of the economic significance these introduced species provide.  Trout are an important economic resource for the Snowy Monaro Region,” Mr Samuels said.

“Mr Samuels said that trout are a very good indicator of the health of a waterway and its carrying capacity. Prior to the building of the Snowy Scheme and importantly Jindabyne Dam and the Moonbah aqueduct, the Moonbah River was regarded as a premier trout stream in the district,” Mr Samuels said.

He added that anecdotal historic records indicate that 3lb fish were common and the odd 5lber was a realistic chance.

“The decline in the Moonbah as a significant fishery occurred very soon after the building of Jindabyne and the Mowamba aqueduct,” Mr Samuels said.

“It was a two-pronged decline.  First, was the cessation of flows down the Snowy, which radically changed the habitat from one of a trout strong-hold to one of virtually notrout.  The second was the loss of connectivity to the Moonbah. While still a first-class habitat, it lost the migrants that visited each year.”

The good news is that the environmental water releases into the Snowy River has seen a dramatic change in the Snowy River as a trout fishery.

Despite that, the Mowamba Weir and aqueduct the Moonbah River still holds a reputation as a nice trout fishery.

Even though the Monaro Acclimatisation Society has stocked the Moonbah River each year with a good number of baby trout, fish in the Moonbah since the loss of connectivity, rarely reach legal size, let alone the monsters of the past.

“So, without this connectivity the Moonbah now acts as a nursery fishery.  No longer do the small hatchlings have the capacity to run downstream into the Snowy, to larger waters with more food, to move downstream to eat larger prey as they grow.  Instead they are restricted to the nursery waters where their growth is not only determined by food, but also by space.

“The reputation of the Moonbah in the past was intrinsically linked to larger spawning fish returning home.  That link is now broken,” Mr Samuels said.

But he said there must be a way to supply connectivity between the Snowy River and the Moonbah River and still meet the needs of Snowy Hydro.

“Australia is a country blessed with skilled engineers, surely a solution that fills all needs is not beyond us.

Mr Samuels also spoke about the idea of creating a fishing / hiking trail from Dalgety to the Jindabyne Dam wall.