The RFIF-funded marron stocking program recently reached its target of seeing 300,000 marron released into popular south-west dams, with another huge release.
In April, the team from Aquafarms released more than 220,000 one-year-old marron between the waters of Waroona Dam and Logue Brook Dam, taking the total number of marron stocked into our south-west impoundments over the last two years to a staggering 300,000!
However, this great news for WA’s 10,000 licensed marron fishers has been soured by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s (DPIRD) last-minute decision to block stocking of marron into Harvey Dam.
When Premier McGowan and the then Fisheries Minister launched the program helping to release several hundred marron into Harvey Dam in December 2019, it was because Harvey Dam was considered the primary stocking location for this project given its position as one of WA’s favourite marroning spots.
At the start of the program, DPIRD raised concerns that collecting many breeding animals from Harvey Dam for the project could impact on recreational fishing experiences. DPIRD’s preferred approach was for breeding animals to be primarily sourced from commercial aquaculture operations.
However, around a month before stocking Harvey Dam with animals that were one year old, DPIRD informed Recfishwest that, as the broodstock animals had not originated from Harvey Dam, approval to stock them there would not be provided. This rationale, however, did not apply to Logue Brook or Waroona Dams.
“Bureaucracy gone mad”
When asked to clarify this decision, DPIRD gave the following response:
“During the course of the project significant changes occurred, including where the marron were sourced from. DPIRD, in balancing best outcomes for the marron fishery (including genetic diversity) with ensuring the project could be delivered, determined that it would not be appropriate to allow stocking of commercial-line marron to Harvey Dam.”
Recfishwest Operations Manager Leyland Campbell said DPIRD’s decision to shift the goalposts at the eleventh hour was an example of government “bureaucracy gone mad.”
“While DPIRD didn’t want the project to use broodstock from Harvey Dam, they also wouldn’t allow Harvey Dam to be stocked unless it was with offspring from Harvey Dam marron,” he said. “This Catch-22 scenario would make for a good episode of ‘Utopia’, but it is not the sort of actions Recfishwest expect from a government department that took pride in its once excellent reputation for fisheries management.”
DPIRD’s rationale for refusing to allow stocking of Harvey Dam is largely based on findings from a two-decade old research project that concluded marron in the Harvey River were a fast-growing strain that had potential to improve marron production in commercial farms.
What DPIRD has failed to adequately consider is the same research showed the Harvey River marron strain had low levels of survival, extremely low breeding success and any ‘fast’ growing traits couldn’t be incorporated into commercial breeding programs, something confirmed in subsequent research in 2015.
In addition, for more than a decade, the commercial marron industry has undertaken mass selected breeding programs and the growth of commercial marron now exceeds the growth of this ‘fast’ growing marron strain.
DPIRD urged to get on board and back the vision of year-round marroning
“Like us marron fishers are going to be very disappointed that DPIRD at the eleventh hour have used decades old research to refuse stocking in Harvey Dam. The marron that were not allowed to be stocked in Harvey Dam reach trophy-size quicker, have better survival and have better reproduction – it seems ridiculous to not use them to help improve recreational fishing experiences in the premier marroning location of a recreational-only fishery.
“The Premier announcing this project on location at Harvey Dam in 2019 should have sent a strong signal that it was an important project for the Government and that government departments should ‘get on board’ and help make it happen.”
Leyland added while the last-minute refusal to allow stocking of Harvey Dam will reduce the quality of outcomes from the project and may push back the dream of year-round marron fishing, it should not detract from the fact that for the first time a large-scale marron stocking program has successfully been undertaken.
“We can only hope that when future projects designed to develop our freshwater fisheries are put forward, such as enhancing barren impoundment habitats or stocking alternatives to trout in the face of a drying climate, DPIRD chose to help rather than hinder,” said Leyland.