Full stream ahead

Habi­tat works in King River prompt re­turn of fish, an­glers

Wangaratta Chronicle - - News - BY ANITA McPHER­SON am­cpher­[email protected] ne­me­dia.com.au

First time vis­i­tors to the King River at Gen­tle An­nie may be for­given for think­ing the name is some­how linked to the way the crys­tal clear wa­ters trickle gen­tly over the peb­bles on its way down­stream.

On a day like to­day it’s quiet, calm and invit­ing, per­fect for a swim or for cast­ing a line in the hope of snar­ing an un­sus­pect­ing trout rest­ing in one of the deeper pools be­hind a boul­der.

The in­sects buzz, the veg­e­ta­tion is thick and healthy and it looks like it could have been that way for decades, but the truth is this river is a volatile force of na­ture, strong enough to erode banks, tear trees out of the ground and wash away bridges, which is ex­actly what it did here eight years ago.

But restora­tion work slowly be­gan and then in 2014 the King Val­ley Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion was awarded a grant of $209,000 by the Vic­to­rian Fish­eries Au­thor­ity through the Recre­ational Fish­ing Grants Pro­gram, to re­store the fish habi­tat that had been dec­i­mated by the 2010 flood events.

The North East Catch­ment Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity (NECMA) was ap­pointed project man­ager, sup­ported by the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment’s An­gler Ri­par­ian Part­ner­ship Pro­gram, aimed at im­prov­ing the health of the state’s wa­ter­ways and catch­ments through work­ing di­rectly with recre­ational fish­ers.

Over three years sub­stan­tial works were un­der­taken at two main sites, around Gen­tle An­nie and up­stream near Cheshunt, to recre­ate that habi­tat.

And those works are fi­nally pay­ing div­i­dends.

NECMA se­nior project of­fi­cer An­drew Briggs said in 2010 those surg­ing flood­wa­ters changed the course of the river and pushed tonnes of rocks along un­til they filled the holes once en­joyed by na­tive fish and trout.

“The King River is a very chal­leng­ing river to work on,” he said.

“It has an ex­tremely high en­ergy – it’s the high­est en­ergy river in the state – and it can move rocks along and then ‘ce­ment’ them in place.

“It has these mas­sive high floods that do all this dam­age, but then there are very long pe­ri­ods of very low en­ergy – it’s a real Jekyll and Hyde sort of river.”

Af­ter a de­layed start due to un­pre­dictable weather the works fi­nally got un­der way in earnest, and over a three year pe­riod more than 60 large gran­ite boul­ders were po­si­tioned into place, log jams were cre­ated, more than 250 hard­wood trees and 750 na­tive trees and shrubs were planted, and 250 me­tres of fenc­ing was put up to ex­clude stock.

“When you put large rocks in place, you cre­ate a spot where you’re in­creas­ing that bit of en­ergy to try to help the river clean it­self out, as well as pro­vid­ing spots for all fish, but par­tic­u­larly trout, to get out of the main flow where there’s too much cur­rent for them to swim against,” said Mr Briggs.

“If they can get in be­hind the rocks, where there’s an eddy be­hind it, they can have a spell, food washes in there, and then when they’re ready they can move on to the next one.

“You’re help­ing fish move through the sys­tem.”

Signs of the re­turn of fish are ev­i­dent to Rus­sell Bird from Gen­tle An­nie Car­a­van and Camp­ing Re­serve, who has seen trout and even cod al­ready on the move and be­ing caught.

He said an in­for­ma­tion board at Gen­tle An­nie de­tail­ing the project has caught the eye of campers and the project, also cap­tured in a video, and has won praise from fish­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and clubs.

“I’ve been telling peo­ple about the habi­tat works and en­cour­ag­ing them to read the board, and now they’re go­ing out and fish­ing, whereas be­fore peo­ple who came reg­u­larly said there was no fish here,” he said.

“Now they’re get­ting their rods out be­cause they think it won’t be a waste of time.

“It’s mov­ing in the best di­rec­tion – for the fish and for fish­ers.”

Mr Briggs said while he un­der­stands bet­ter than most that floods will hap­pen again one day given the dy­namic na­ture of rivers, it’s all part of na­ture tak­ing its course.

“You work with what you’ve got and you ap­ply the best science and the best skill to come up with the best re­sult,” he said.

“It’s a great project – in a way it’s the kind of work we’d like to do all the time.

“A lot of us who get into this game do it be­cause we love rivers, we love fish­ing and we love fish, so it’s re­ally re­ward­ing to work with peo­ple in the com­mu­nity and achieve this.”

PHOTO: Mel Guy

MIS­SION AC­COM­PLISHED: NECMA se­nior project of­fi­cer An­drew Briggs is pleased to have over­seen a project to re­store fish habi­tat in the King River in Whitfield and Cheshunt.

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