42,000 barra released into Lake Kununurra in fish stocking “mission impossible”

Neither biblical floods, nor their trailer rear wheel axle falling off, could stop Broome’s North Regional TAFE aquaculture team making an epic 1,000km/20 hour-long journey to release 42,000 barramundi all around 62 days-old into their new home, Lake Kununurra!

North Regional TAFE Acting Hatchery Manager Milton Williams and his team had been tasked with delivering the latest batch of 100,000 barra they had reared as part of the ongoing Lake Kununurra stocking program that has seen more than 1.3 million fish stocked into the fishery since 2013.

With the cyclonic floods taking out Fitzroy Bridge and with no other river crossing options available initially, the transport delays between Broome and Kununurra meant the fish were fast maxing out at the size they could be viably kept at the hatchery.

“It costs $1,500 a week in oxygen alone to support that many fish at the centre,” said Milton, “it was nearing the point where we just couldn’t afford to keep them anymore – it was not looking good.”

All kinds of options were considered, including chartering a plane and airlifting the fish to Kununurra, but were ruled out for costs and logistical reasons – it was beginning to look a bit like a fish stocking mission impossible.

Happily, a commercial aquaculture venture took 58,000 of the fish off their hands and then the low-level crossing finally opened across the Fitzroy, courtesy of 10,000 tonnes of rock and steel donated by BHP to allow the team to transport the fish up to Kununurra.

Milton and hatchery technician Darcy Dunstan finally set out from the hatchery with the fish in tow in oxygen-fed tanks on the back of their specially adapted trailer and all was going well until the wheels came off…literally.

A spring gave out at the back of the trailer resulting in the rear wheel axle falling off 30km outside of Fitzroy Crossing.

“There’s never a dull moment working in aquaculture. It’s not a career – it’s an adventure!” said Milton.

LISTEN TO MILTON’S ABC KIMBERLEY INTERVIEW HERE DISCUSSING HIS EPIC BARRA STOCKING MISSION!

North Regional TAFE Acting Hatchery Manager Milton Williams (pictured centre) and his team getting ready to release 42,000 barramundi into Lake Kununurra after their wild ride.

The wheels come off!

With just one bar’s coverage on his mobile phone, Milton was able to get hold of Brian from Fitzroy Crossing Automotive Salvage and Towing who came to the stricken trailer’s aid with his tilt truck.

Brian then really, really went the extra distance to drive the tanks of fish the remaining 700km up to Kununurra on his tilt truck tray with Milton and Darcy following in their 4WD behind.

Forced to drive at only 90kmh meant the crew finally landed at Falls Crossing in Kununurra at 9pm, some 19 hours after having set out from Broome. The boat DBCA usually provide to help stock some of the fish in the lake was stood down due to the late hour, leaving all the fish to be released at Falls Crossing.

There was then an anxious two-hour wait as the fish acclimatised before being finally released into their new home.

“There was a mixture of relief, excitement and exhaustion seeing them go in after all the challenges. Being that much older and bigger than usual has actually worked in their favour, making them that bit more robust and less susceptible to predators,” said Milton.

Read more about the stocking program and fantastic fishing in Lake Kununurra here 

With the fish successfully delivered, Milton and Darcy could finally sit back and enjoy a very well-earned beer.

“It was the best tasting beer I’ve ever had!” laughed Milton, “We were pretty exhausted with the whole experience being a bit of a rollercoaster. But we got there in the end, and it feels great to have delivered another 42,000 barra to the Lake, many of which will grow into metre-plus fish enjoyed by local fishers and visitors the lake alike.”

Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said, “Huge credit to Milton, Darcy and the North Regional TAFE aquaculture centre crew. They’ve gone above and beyond to make sure these valuable fish got delivered to the lake.

“Well-managed fishing stocking programs like this create fantastic fishing opportunities for regional communities and all the social, economic and tourism benefits that go with it.

“The fishing is always better when the fish are biting – and having the chance to fish for the iconic barramundi in a safe, accessible setting that Lake Kununurra provides – is of huge value to the local community and visitors to the Kimberley.”

Flashback: Fishing in Barradise – The 2022 Apex Kununurra Barra Bash

With another 42,000 barramundi stocked into the picturesque Lake Kununurra, a large majority of them will make it to this kind of size landed by Luke Koyts!

WA Wilderness Fishing Location Producing Monsters

Here’s what we sent our members last week in our Members First Email.


Every now and then, things go exactly according to plan!

Stocking Barramundi into Lake Kununurra has been one of those times and we wanted to give you an update.

Many fishers in the Kimberley community had long held visions of catching world class Barramundi on the doorstep of town. Since the construction of the first stage of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme in 1963, Barramundi had been prevented from migrating further upstream than the Ord River Diversion Dam. An opportunity was born from this challenge – one that would bring monster fish back to local waters.

In 2013, a fish stocking project saw over 300,000 Barramundi fingerlings (7cm-10cm long) released into Lake Kununurra. Since then a further 200,000 Barramundi have been stocked, with thousands more still to come.

The result can only be described as spectacular! Fish funded from your licence money have showed growth rates never seen before in the East Kimberley, with most fish now being caught over the fabled ‘metre mark.’

We reported back in April 2015 of stocked fish being caught at 45cm-60cm.

We are pleased to report that the quality of fishing has continued with local fisher Brad Pasfield’s recent monster Barra (as pictured below). Brad’s father Dick Pasfield has worked tirelessly for many years to ensure the vision of trophy Barramundi in Lake Kununurra was realised, and we are pleased to see this vision paying dividends for both the local community and visiting fishers.

As planned, Lake Kununurra is now regarded as a world class trophy Barramundi fishery (plus there’s no saltwater crocs or huge Kimberley

tides to deal with). If these monsters continue to grow as expected it won’t be long before the Lake could hold Australia’s biggest Barra. If you want to keep up to date with the latest catches, check out Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group on Facebook.

I had the opportunity to fish up on Lake Kununurra last year with my old mate Dick Pasfield who wanted me to come up and see what he has to live with every day. Here’s the result:

If a trophy Barra is on your bucket list, make sure you visit Lake Kununurra!

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