Author Archives: Brendan Ebner

Ebb SnorkellingIMGP1849

How much field time is needed for the soul?

Drafted by Ebb early 2016

For me, as is no doubt the case for many of you, there is a lot of benefit to getting out and into the field. The splendour of sunlight soaking through the skin, contrasting weeks on end in the office; and the cherry on top in seeing actual, real fish swimming. Where previously, too much office time had these fish things shaped as a fusion of pixels, a simulation of what may represent fish. At worst faded memories of whether I am still a fish ecologist, buried under paperwork stamped with grant pre-proposal, animal ethics reports overdue. Sure there is science, entering data, whipping up a graph or three, and maybe writing a report canvassing how many of them we caught or didn’t catch on a trip from last year. Through the grind there is no doubt for me, that field time is good for the soul, but is it necessary?

If you are a field scientist or technician you may be blissfully unaware of the office dungeon, flitting in now and then to recharge some electro-fishing batteries or to mend the odd net. Using these rendezvous as an opportunity to gloat to the administrative officer or mid-level manager, your life is a continuous cruise in nature. Timing your occasional urban day to coincide with consumption of some colleague’s birthday cake or the Melbourne cup afternoon luncheon. In years gone by I was that guy, with a sparkle in my eye.

With age comes responsibility and the scarcity of work and that elusive pay check can corner a fish ecologist square up against the wall. Dry-dock, with a postcard or two pinned to the cork board representing the last memories of days in the field. These pictures come alive when they flicker to the blowing air conditioner. Images that whisper hauntingly of the time a couple of us measured forty-seven thousand carp gudgeons in a week, or landed a cod that would instantly swell a man’s testicles or at least present kudos to a female scientist carving out her freshwater fish science career. And to be sure, not all girls love horses.

I once had a desk job early on in the game. It had me camped in a library most days. Otherwise I sat at my desk with a computer at a time when it was commonplace to receive a tutorial on how to use an internet search engine. That was the moment, back there, right then. A computer was starting to mount the case for a claim on full custody of my working life. In that job, I was also occasionally in meetings with an economist. To be fair it was actually interesting and I had a boss that was always twenty steps ahead, always eager to learn and pass on her thinking about the past, the current and the future of the aquatic ecology of the Murray-Darling Basin (as if the Basin were one mythical, long-lived creature). And the economist was actually a real card. Damn straight I was grateful for that opportunity but it was 100% office time. Sanity hinged on glimpses of a two-foot fish tank in my office and McDowall’s brand spanking new second edition providing glimpses of the underwater world outside.

Weekends found my son and me out hauling bait traps and stocking glass boxes in our lounge room with gudgeon and redfin and rainbows and smelt (I love using the term gudgeon as the plural like you can buy it by the pound). Three Murray crays were flatmates and at times they spent too much time in the kitchen, the laundry or in my soon to be wife’s bed. A large cray climbing up the sheets into our bed was a line that once crossed was to prove a matter of contention between an aquarist and his partner. I would love to say I won the battle. Just confirming your suspicion, that would be my lie.

I’ve had jobs with big field chunks and regular field chunks and somewhere in between. I find that with each move to a new town and when faced with a new ecosystem there is a serious need to be out in it for those first few years, and then this can slow, but not entirely wane. Then it gets bloody interesting. This is the know enough to be dangerous phase, where I reckon I know what’s going on. It parallels some arm waving at a conference, some analysis and complementary writing. Time has passed. Then after no real first hand contact with the ecosystem or only a revisit to a familiar site or two, there is the get knocked on my arse phase. Getting back out there and realising how great it is to be in it, just long enough to realise that my mind has oversimplified this system. Like a long-lost girlfriend that I thought I still knew. And the all too familiar, ‘You just didn’t take the time to get to know me,’ as she walks out the door.

Ebb walking stream with Clingers Colour BackupLairFinal

So is it necessary to be in the field? For me, damn straight, indeedy. It stops me losing my way. My back begins to straighten. Muscles start to quiver having laid waste throughout all extremities of an office-chair-parked-body, and my mouse-hand conveys sarcastically, ‘Welcome back to the rest of you, care to get involved?’ Though clearly not enough muscle is in action to present any real threat to a Schwarzenegger or Stallone, a fish ecologist is reborn.

What happens to the fisho-mind in the field following an office-field balance period that has been seriously out of kilter? For one, there is simply a return of interest and curiosity upon seeing fish body patterns, their slippery bodies flipping in a net, the marvel of them alive. And there is the mental models challenged, confirmed or rebutted based on a sprinkling of concrete facts. There are new observations, like seeing a fish eating a mango for the first time, because the wet season has come late and the tablelands streams are not yet sponsored by Willy Wonker. A fish burying when I’d never picked it for a Houdini. A mixed shoal of natives and ferals, happily living side by side, challenging all of the books and papers from which I’d inferred that such tribes were at war, twenty-four seven. What happens to the fisho-mind, is that it is wonderfully intoxicated in the field.

Ants as ground support to the several leeches in my nether regions and mosquitoes attacking from the sky. The field can also be a dreadful place on a given day. Forgive the jolt, I merely needed to balance out all this nostalgia, and take a deep breath whilst at my trusty office keyboard.

So what about numbers? How much time and how frequently should I be in the field? In a lean year if I can get one or two sizeable trips in, I’ll survive as might my marriage. Sprinkle it with roughly a day a month or even one hour underwater in a stream per month, and that is probably a minimum, a quota to keep Satin from the door. Two separate one hour snorkels in quick succession, say on back to back weekends, and I could probably even go without rum for a while. But is it necessary for every fish ecologist? Maybe not. Who am I to say?

 

 

 

 

Outboard drawing

Boat

This is a general call for written and pictorial contributions relating to the theme of ‘boat’. We’ll accept canoe, kayak, dinghies, rafts, pleasure craft, fan-boat, house boats and cruise ships and those pushing the envelope. No word limit, and multiple images are allowed. Judges yet to be determined, but brace yourself for the subjectivity of the occasion. Do it for the love first and foremost and allow your competitive nature to play second fiddle. It can be descriptive, emotional, deep or funny, or whatever you want essentially. Gutter language will be frowned upon but not necessarily excluded. Dave Roberts, you’ll be happy to know the t-shirts are of better quality these days, but you are going to have to earn it all over again. Closing date: end of April.

 

 

Sicyopterus__lagocephalusFilled

A bit about you

23 February, 2016

Dear Lairians,

If you are a fish ecologist, geneticist, fisheries or environmental manager or are connected in some way to Australian freshwater fish ecology, feel free to send me a few sentences about yourself, and a photo, and if you wish, some contact details or links to websites. I’ll then post them to the faces page so that others can contact you easily.

If anyone wishes to update their information feel free to say gidday.

Share in the Lair.

 

Sincerely

Ebb

Currently, you can reach me on [email protected]

Richard Vari photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Vale Richard Vari.

It is with considerable sadness we report the passing of one of the world’s pre-eminent fish biologists and taxonomists, Richard P. Vari, who recently lost a year-long battle with cancer. Although Richard is perhaps more broadly known for his considerable body of research across South America, much of his early work (particularly his PhD dissertation on the terapontid grunters) was focused on Australian fishes. The genus Variichthys(including the still poorly known Australian species V. lacustris) was named in recognition of his work on the Terapontidae.

Varichthys photo

Variichthys lacustris (Mees & Kailola 1977)

Rich became a Curator in the Division of Fishes at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 1980, served as Chairman of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology, and as Interim Associate Director for Science at the Smithsonian in recent years. He wrote or co-authored more than 150 articles and papers and discovered 190 fish species. Five species have been named after him. Rich was especially influential in developing young scientists, particularly from South American countries. He hosted dozens of fellows and researchers at the Smithsonian Museum (even accommodating without question some recent Australian fish researchers who randomly approached him for time at his lab). Richard was one of that rare breed of researchers who easily bridged the gap between ‘old school’ morphological-meristic taxonomy and emerging molecular systematics. A selfless researcher who was always generous with his time (despite his own considerable work commitments), his presence will be sorely missed.

Editor’s note: Thank you, to Aaron Davis, for taking the time to pen this important tribute to Dr Richard Vari. Richard will be missed. Permission to display the photograph of him was kindly provided by the Office of Photography and Media, National Museum of Natural History, Washington.

 

 

 

Dave CrookRoperCropped

Roper River adventure

By David Crook

A field trip in November last year to the remote Roper River estuary reminded me that the best experiences in life often arise from adverse circumstances.

The field trip was part of an acoustic tracking study of barramundi and forktail catfish that myself and Lachie Hetherington (PhD student) from Charles Darwin University are undertaking in collaboration with the NT Department of Land Resource Management and NT Fisheries, with help from the Yugul Mangi indigenous rangers.

The Roper River – which flows into the western Gulf of Carpentaria – is one of the Northern Territory’s few perennial rivers, and has been earmarked as a potential candidate for future water resource development. The aim of our project is to provide information on the movements of barra and catfish in relation to river flow, thus helping water managers to make informed decisions about the potential effects of future water resource development on the ecology of the system.

Prior to our trip to the Roper estuary, the research team had spent three epic weeks in the freshwater reaches catching and surgically implanting transmitters into 80 barra and 20 catfish, as well as installing an array of 26 acoustic receivers. We were “forced” to catch the fish by angling because the conductivity of the system is too high for the NT Fisheries electrofishing boat to work effectively. We had a nice shady camp and a place to take a quick dip in the river without fear of being eaten by one of the local lizards. However, the “build-up” weather was very hot and humid and the days long and tiring. As much as I love my fishing, I’d had enough of chucking lures for barra by the end of the three weeks (gladly, this was a temporary condition, resolved immediately upon my return home).

With the fish tagged and the freshwater acoustic array installed, the next step was to cover the estuary with receivers before the wet season rains arrived. We had 12 of the new acoustic release receivers from Vemco to install and the aim was to place one every 10-15 km along the 150 km of river and estuary below Roper Bar. We set off early on a hot and sunny day in November from the boat ramp at Ngukurr (an aboriginal community 30 km downstream of Roper Bar). Chris Errity from Fisheries was skippering the NT Fisheries boat with Lachie and myself on-board. Clarry (the head ranger) and two other Yugul Mangi Rangers were leading the way in their boat.

Dave CrookRoper

Our plan was to travel the 120 km from Ngukurr to the estuary mouth – a journey we estimated would take about 3.5 hours. Once there, we would have time for a quick fish (during our lunch break of course) and then return back upstream dropping the receivers in as we went. Two and a half hours into the journey and about 30 km from our destination, all was going to plan. I was enjoying the scenery and beginning to doze off to the thrum of the outboard. Chris was following the rangers as they adroitly avoided hazardous rock bars.

Suddenly, the thrum of the engine became a whine and very rapidly a disturbing squeal. Chris stopped the boat and it was immediately apparent that we were in a spot of bother – out of nowhere we had a blown gearbox. A few expletives followed, but I must say that we all remained pretty calm. Thankfully, the rangers had been keeping an eye out and turned around quickly to see why we had stopped. Given the situation, it was decided that the only course of action was to continue towards Port Roper[1], with the rangers towing our boat the remaining 30 km.

Now, covering 30 km under tow is a slow and boring process, even with the advantage of wonderful scenery. It took us another three hours to reach Port Roper. It was with great relief that we all sat in the roasting sun to eat our lunch beside the tree-less boat ramp. The issue now was what to do next. We had done plenty of calculations on the amount of fuel required for the trip. However, this did not include spending three, fuel-guzzling hours towing another boat. The rangers’ boat now did not have enough fuel to return to Ngukurr. Of course our boat still had heaps of fuel, all locked up safely in the under-floor tank and completely useless to us.

Fortunately, Chris knew one of the local crabbers (Vu Van Nguyen) and was able to borrow 100 L of fuel to save our bacon. Although it was now mid-afternoon and a long way back to Ngukurr, we decided to do what we came to do and get the receivers in the water. All fuelled up, I jumped in the rangers’ boat and we headed 10 km further downstream to the estuary mouth to deploy five of the receivers. By now the sea breeze had kicked in big time. Rather than deploying the receivers in the calm morning conditions as planned, we got smashed by huge waves. Still, at least some receivers were finally in the water.

I was then dropped back at the boat ramp where the plan was for Lachie and I to mind the disabled boat at Port Roper until Chris could get back to pick us up. Chris’ journey involved a 4 hour return boat trip to Ngukurr with the rangers (dropping off the remaining receivers as he went), followed by another 3 hours of driving on dirt roads at night back to Port Roper. He also had to grab a feed and 100 L of fuel to pay back Vu. Given the stifling heat, increasing numbers of midges and impending darkness, I wasn’t looking forward to 8 hours of waiting around at the exposed boat ramp until Chris returned. I didn’t even have a book to read!

At this point, our luck changed for the better. Vu came down to the boat ramp in his old Landcruiser and asked if we’d like to come up to his shack for dinner and a few beers. Of course we very happily agreed and within a few minutes were kicking back with icy-cold cans of XXXX Gold. Absolute bliss! I was now starting to think that Chris had definitely got the rough end of the deal.

From the outside, Vu’s corrugated iron shack on the river bank looked pretty dodgy. However, once inside it was really well set-up and surprisingly cool. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chatting with Vu and his wife, and enjoyed a superb Vietnamese dinner. Vu came to Australia from Vietnam as a refugee in the 1970s and has been fishing commercially ever since. His knowledge of mud crabs and the Northern Territory was amazing, and he was very interested in the sort of research we were doing. It was one of those great experiences that don’t come along too often, and I felt very privileged to have had the chance to spend time talking with Vu in this unique setting.

At about 11 pm, Chris pulled up outside the shack after his epic journey. We thanked Vu and returned his fuel, then headed to the boat ramp to pick up the boat. Getting the boat back on the trailer without the motor (in the dark, in crocodile infested waters) had its moments, not helped by the fact that the winch had broken on the corrugated roads into Port Roper. Somehow we managed and were just about to hit the road when another vehicle showed up and started to launch their boat. I couldn’t believe it. Out in the middle of nowhere at 11:30 pm, these guys just pulled up ready to go fishing. The lengths people will go to chasing barra is astounding!

After another three hours of corrugations, we finally arrived at our accommodation at Roper Bar at 2:30 am, totally exhausted. After everything that had happened, I now look back and think about the awesome experience of that day. Our epic boat trip down the beautiful Roper River, all new to me. Lunch on the banks of the river with the indigenous rangers, talking about their spectacular country. Hanging out with Vu in his shack with cold beer, a delicious dinner and great conversation. Getting the work done despite the challenges. Sharing this all with great colleagues.

Just another day at the office? Hardly!

 

[1] Port Roper is located about 10 km from the mouth of the Roper River estuary. If you are envisaging a scene of bustling activity with ships, cranes and wharves, think again. Port Roper is a boat ramp and a handful of fishing shacks.

Morgs cartoon Jan 2016

One of the west’s best: David Morgan

(From a chat in late January 2016)

 

Ebb – Hi David, welcome to the Lair, thanks for agreeing to this interview at short notice, I know it must be difficult for you to open up to Dr Phil?

David – Thanks Ebb (aka Dr Phil), I’ve opened up to you many times so this shouldn’t be too hard, unless the Bundy Bear is in your ear.

 

Ebb – Tell us a little about your early years growing up in WA and how fish were a part of your life?

David- Well I had a pretty lucky childhood, where my parents, sister and I spent school holidays at Rottnest Island, Busselton and Dunsborough, as well as nights prawning on the Swan River. So I was always around the water and dad loved spearing cobbler, squiding, crabbing and prawning. I learnt pretty early to use a gidgee and was a dab hand with a crab net. Thanks to dad teaching me. I grew up in Rossmoyne on the banks of the Canning River and we lived near a small creek and some wetlands (now built on) where mates and I used to chase gilgies. I still remember catching a monster flounder at a young age off the Busselton Jetty, with dad telling me it was just weed. I still am partial to a crab sandwich and fresh squid.

 

Ebb- So when did you know you wanted to go to university to study fish biology?

David- From a young age I wanted to be a marine biologist. I almost made it and do dabble in the salty water a bit, but opportunities arose to do an Honours on Balston’s Pygmy Perch, a species that I still work on. I guess the early years drove me in this direction.

 

Ebb – David can you tell me why it is you’re such a big fan of the Australian Society for Fish Biology?

David –I think that the main reason is that the Society members are easy going, welcoming to young fish biologists and it is a non-pretentious group. Plus, being from WA, where we used to feel a bit isolated before emails, web and cheap flights, we never really knew what was happening on the east coast unless it was on a Rex Hunt show. A big bonus is that I have met a number of people, like yourself, that have become really good friends, and collaborations are easy to forge within the society.

 

Ebb – Pleasantries out of the way and because I know you reasonably well, I believe I owe it to our following to mix it up a little. Can you explain the two-seine theory to other fish research folk?

David – “Second-seine theory” I believe you are referring to. Although probably not scientifically robust, it is a great method to collect fish for specific samples. Whether it is the disturbing of sediment, I’m not sure, but predatory fishes appear over the disturbed ground following the first seine; although it may also be from the screaming of thousands of small fish being captured and released in a dazed state. All I know is it works!

 

Ebb – If you could have been a dual international and played cricket for Australia and been a fish ecologist but was forced to live on the east coast, which state would you choose to play for? Where in the order would you have preferred to bat? What would you have bowled? And in which fish province would you have liked to have spent some serious time?

David –Cricket was more of a hobby for me, and although my left-arm-round-the-wicket poop, as a mate calls it, was OK, I did have a good inswinging yorker; taking 3/0 for the VC’s 11 versus the students with a bung hip was my career highlight. Although for the last 30 years my school mates and I play a Boxing Dax cricket match in our old stomping ground. I was more of an Aussie Rules ruckman in terms of talent. Unlike modern day players that change States regularly, my parochialism wouldn’t have allowed me to do that. In terms of fish, the gulf country interested me after a trip with yourself and Stirling Peverell, although the wet tropics would make a great contrast to WA and the work that you guys are doing is fascinating. I also really would like to see the fish fauna of the Tasmanian lakes and around Fraser Island.

 

Ebb – Dave, who are some of the old and new contributors to Western Australian specifically (and perhaps further afield) in freshwater fish science and management that you admire and why?

David –When I started Honours on Balston’s Pygmy Perch in 1992, I met with the then Curator of Fishes at the Western Australian Museum, Gerry Allen. He was eager to help me in locating this rare fish and he has inspired so many. Other WA products, such as the late Luke Pen gave me a great deal of support and he assisted in me getting a post-doc in 1998. Other freshwater fish scientists that have really supported me include, early on, Ian Potter and Howard Gill (my PhD supervisors) in learning techniques and publishing, while Stephen Beatty and Mark Allen have been really supportive collaborators. Paul Close in recent times has also been doing some great work in the west. No one in the freshwater scene can ignore the passion of yourself, Adam Kerezsy, Mark Lintermans, Michael Hammer, Peter Unmack or John Koehn.

 

Ebb – David, I can vouch for your ability to take good fish photos, but a few individuals such as Steve Beatty, myself and some guy named Viss, to name a few, are curious as to how so many good photos are attributed to your lens?

David –Photo S. Visser! Look, in my defense, a few Viss photos that I sent to people were given my credit, but I have never purposely claimed someone else’s photos. Viss and Mark Allen taught me a few techniques, but I don’t take many fish photos these days, perhaps I’m scared (or scarred).

 

Ebb – I’ve done a little back ground check and come to realise you now have published in the order of a hundred journal papers. Doesn’t this make you feel old? I mean, are there any of these papers you are especially proud of?

Dave – I guess I’m most proud of the early papers on the biology of Balston’s Pygmy Perch, Salamanderfish and Trout Minnow, mainly as they took years to collect monthly samples of length-frequency, GSI, aging, histology and collection was often difficult. Nowadays I like a short note, and there are a recent couple on sawfish that I am pretty happy with. I am also really pleased with the two field guides (Pilbara and South-west) as they are pretty good summaries of the fauna and involved some great colleagues such as Beats, Mark Allen, Ash Ramsay and James Keleher, as well as yourself. A recent overview of the fishes in WA also is a good extension of these field guides.

 

Ebb- Together, you and Stephen Beatty seem to have really been productive together. Is it important to you guys to churn out heaps of papers, I guess I’m keen to know what is your motivation and how have you managed to keep this up for an extended period?

Dave – We have been working together for about 15 years now, and we are both singing the same tune for our supper, have young families and a similar background. We are both on partial contracts at Murdoch University and the powers that be require a somewhat productive output. With the inevitable expiry of contracts looming, we have been well aware of the need to produce some outputs that the University recognises. But we also are aware of the community perception and we have been driven to provide information or tools for the general public and take the research to the people. Unfortunately universities are now blinkered into looking at those possessing ARC grants and high impact publications, so it will be interesting to see if we survive far into the future.

 

Ebb – I realise you are a family man. Is it important for you that your children understand in some way your passion for conservation science , or do you try to keep work and family stuff separate?

Dave – As a single parent, kids are the most important thing to me and they are all pretty well in touch with conservation things. I have taken them on many field trips to the Pilbara or Kimberley and they are pretty good helpers. They are getting a bit older now so hopefully they want to keep coming. I give their class talks most years and they get pretty excited about that. They also like a crab sandwich.

 

Ebb – Which picture have you chosen to provide and tell us about?

morgs and kids

David and his three children

Dave – I chose a picture from a Pilbara trip in 2014, which was in an effort to fill in some gaps in photos, film and species distributions for the field guide, and the kids had a great time. Beats, MA and family, James Keleher and Ash Ramsay and kids came along to that inspiring part of the world. A great field trip and a great memory for all.

 

Ebb – Morgs, I’ve been fortunate enough to be your sidekick on a few occasions in the Kimberley. So I know the Fitzroy River region is special for you. Would you mind conveying some of your feelings about that part of the Kimberley to our readers?

Dave – I started working on the Fitzroy River in 2001, and there have been so many field trips to the region. You can run, but you can’t hide in the Kimberley. Everyone knows when you are there, and the people have been so accommodating to us. I am so lucky to have work with many different language groups and ranger groups in determining language names for fish and in the Team Sawfish project. It is a very special river, and it is a place I hope to work in for a long time. Nothing beats camping next to the Fitzroy River and catching a barra or a sawfish with great people around. It is a river that we really need to look after, but the constant calls for water abstraction, damming, agriculture and impacts of climate change will continue to challenge us.

 

Ebb – Dave without trying to kick the crap out of you publicly, you have clearly slowed up physically in recent years. However, you show no signs of slowing up professionally. Do you mind if I ask, what is coming up for D. Lloyd Morgan? Have you got some itches to scratch, science and/or conservation challenges and aspirations yet to be reached?

Dave – The hip replacement slowed me down a few years ago, and the requirement to feed, develop and school three wonderful kids has been a challenge. I think one of the challenges that we all face is the ability to attract funds and a salary. The constant need to pay to work is not ideal and places a lot of pressure on researchers like me that are finding funding for most of their own salary; as I’m sure you are familiar with. I have been fortunate to ‘survive’ for about 17 years as a partially self-funded post-doc, so future is never certain under this scenario. When I look back, WA freshwater fishes were not on any radar, and now they are well-known and the threats are being understood. I hope to continue to be involved in freshwater fish conservation at Murdoch University for a few years yet!

Morgs on the tools

Morgs on the tools near Onslow, WA

Ebb – Dr Morgan, thank you for giving up your time and for being forthright in your responses to my at times informal questioning. Undoubtedly, I would have preferred to use electricity to extract some answers. Keep on swinging mate and take care.

Cover cropped

The Last Olive Perchlet

 

The very year they could be rightfully declared extinct, something was stirring in the bottom of Rexy Conallin’s bucket…..was it…..THE LAST OLIVE PERCHLET!?!

What else is hiding out there? Who is looking? How are they looking? Who is funding our ongoing need for inventory knowledge?

During one of the greatest ever bush fishing adventures of the modern era, a team of scientists, NRM people and commercial fishos from NSW, SA and Vic all got together in the Lower, lower Lachlan (Where even Clancy of the overflow was unreachable) to try out some ideas about controlling carp. This trip was the Kokoda trail of fish research expeditions and whilst all survived, none that were there will ever forget the Lachlan blues. But that is another story for later on.

Whilst testing Rex Conallin’s portable Williams carp cage below a small weir in the Lake Brewster outflow channel, Cam McGregor made two important discoveries.

1: Rex wasn’t processing the small fish catch from the fyke nets like he said he would and

2: In a small tin bucket where Rex was storing the catch for “later” lurked a different looking fish.
Cam’s sharp eyes had picked out the first olive perchlet (Ambassis agassizi) caught in the Lachlan River for nearly fifty years, commonly considered the threshold for declaring something extinct. Like Plato once stated, “where there’s one olive perchlet, there must be at least two more olive perchlets” (although the Bible’s Genesis seems to disagree with this conclusion assuming Adam and Eve were not Tasmanian).

Picture1

A catch of perchlet and the net from whence they were re-discovered in the Mountain Creek outlet channel, lower, lower, Lachlan. Note Rexie’s carp cage at the right.

A follow up survey revealed a massively abundant population of olive perchlet through the local waterways with the species completely dominating the catch in many nets (3000+ individuals per fyke) and co-existing happily in shallow, isolated pools with yellowbelly, carp, redfin, gudgeons and smelt…….

…….And cute little turtles…………

Picture2

…………..And this freak of a hardyhead (top one) with no face whatsoever!!!

Picture3

Indeed this was the only known population of olive perchlet in the entire Murray Catchment. And it was going OFF! What was unique about this place that the olive perchlet should be here and why didn’t we know they were there? The habitat where they were first found is at the bottom end of a puny little channel with in-stream barriers galore, poor water quality and every now and then State Water would unleash a Biblical flood of pelican crap infested green water that would shake the very leaves off the redgums downstream through that channel. “These fish should be flourishing in the Murray”. But on reflection, the key things that seemed to be there for these perchlet was a combination of low flow habitats and instream macrophyte beds like this……

Picture4
At the bottom of the Lachlan, most irrigation flows don’t arrive, increasingly since more water has become diverted up Willandra Creek rather than the bottom of the main channel. So the drought processes that would have occurred regularly in these Murray River catchments, that is summer low flows and regular flow variability to maintain macrophyte bed growth and diversity. In fact, a large part of the population existed within an area that was between where we drain the summer flows off to fill lake Brewster and where we smash them back in via the Mountain Creek outlet. In addition, the water takes so long to get down the Lachlan from the upper catchments (where it rains) that water arrives warm and there is no big mass of water moving through to other places (Lachlan water stays in the Lachlan!). So they may have an ideal little refuge where they are sheltered from the regular reversals of hydrology and water quality that predominate throughout their former range.

Picture5

How to design a perchlet refuge. Original artist’s rendition of the purpose built perchlet refuge.
As scientists what are want to do, we pulled some of the perchlets heads apart, ethically, to look at their otoliths – ear bones that record their growth like the rings of a tree. Low and behold, these fish were all from a single year class that seemed to link back to a pulsed flow event during spring that year, But No; otolith aging revealed that the spawning STOPPED once the flow pulse hit. All of the fish were in fact spawned in the period preceding the flow pulse at the exact point that water temperature reached 23 degrees C and stopped once the flow pulse dropped the temperature again. This is EXACTLY the temperature that Angela Arthington and …ahh….Milton said they would spawn at in Queensland during the eighties (Milton and Arthington 1985). So there we have it, water temperature, low flow habitat and macrophyte beds, all combined with a unique little refuge from many of the impacts of the water regulation going on all around and you can still have olive perchlet.

Picture6

The spawning period of olive perchlet in relation to water temperature of the Lachlan River (McNeil et al. 2008).

 

So there ARE hidden little gems out there! The last remaining bastions of a Murray that was, unique linkages to our past, heritage places and conservation hot-spots. But serendipity does not come to those who stay at home playing the x-box or indeed writing conservation and recovery plans in Canberra or those that effectively manage budgets to protect asssets identified using risk assessment methodologies supported by baysian belief networks and decision support models. Or even those, it appears, that run national monitoring programs designed to monitor the population structure of fish in the Murray-Darling Basin.

In fact all past monitoring had missed this population completely, could this be happening elsewhere? Could there be other populations of perchlet lurking, waiting, could there be other species? Purple spotted gudgeons? Murray hardyhead? Pigmy perch? Purple helmeted pocket gudgeons? OK, Tarmo Raadik made that last one up, but you see the point?

The answer is yes. Mike Hammer a while back woke up in the middle of the night after a vivid dream, muttered, “I know where they are” and slipped out of bed and off to the Murray where he found a robust little population of purple spotted gudgeon waiting for him, calling him. Again, the only one in the Murray catchment. The yarra pigmy perch called out to him on another moonlight night and somnambulated down to the Barrages to discover populations down there. But its never big government programs that find these guys, and why not? I personaly believe that two things are driving this problem

1: A focus on big fish for conservation and community and

2: A love of electrofishing in big rivers as a fish monitoring strategy.

After the discovery of the olive perchlet we asked, How did we miss these guys and are we missing them everywhere we monitor? So we ran a whole heap of SRA (Sustainable Rivers Audit) samples through the known population. We caught olive perchlet, but not many and we know from the netting they were thick in the water. But the SRA and similar monitoring programs want to catch big fish and so they do. Bony bloody herring, carp but importantly golden and silver perch and Murray cod – EPBC listed GODS of fish. Common as bloody muck. But are the perchlet EPBC listed? Are Galaxias rostratus EPBC listed? Are southern pigmy perch EPBC listed? Are the Southern Purple spotted gudgeon listed?

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A Jamie Oliver style smattering of olive perchlet on seasonal greens…Oliver perchlet anyone???

No, its just big fish and a heap of species that have been naturaly locked into tiny little ranges for thousands of years due to their natural inability to cope with the world around them. I reckon half the big fish are listed because people use the wrong bait. But hands up who has caught a shitload of Galaxias rostratus lately? The silence is deafening. And here is the real problem, there is NO focus on studying, listing and planning for the restoration of small bodied, wetland oriented fish, unless you are already a useless species at the end of your natural shot at the evolutionary title (I’m looking at YOU Mogurnda clivicola). The water industry delivers flows for inundating wetlands with little to no strategies for how their flows are targeting and tailored towards the recovery and sustainance of these wetland fish species. We raised these concerns a decade ago (see Closs et al. 2005) and since that time the little rare species have just about disappeared from floodplains across The Murray catchment. Are they headed for the olive perchlet and purple spotted gudgeon world of “oh, when did they dissappear? I wasn’t watching!”

NO, we Must look for these populations using appropriate methods and targeting the appropriate habitats. We need to monitor the Killawarra Floodplain on the Ovens, We need to monitor the Werai Forest on the Edward/Wakool, and the olive perchlet have taught us that we need to monitor that crappy little outlet channel at Lake Brewster, the purple spotted gudgeon has taught us that we need to monitor those crappy little wetlands that run through caravan parks on the Murray and mostly we need to monitor that little patch where no one has looked and where the next exciting discovery is waiting to help us bring back the fish to the Murray catchment.

THEYRE OUT THERE PEOPLE!

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Help cheer up Janice Kerr’s little Oliver perchlett, find him some friends, find and revive the small fish! (original artwork by Janice Kerr).

Editor’s note: Thanks Dale for an insightful and inspiring article. It would be really interesting to hear the thoughts of other fish survey folk on related issues, maybe via some brief comments/letters………

 

 

Luna Park

ASFB conference wrap: Sydney 2015

By Ben Broadhurst with help from Lara Suitor

 

Following on from the Darwin Conference was never going to be easy, both in terms of the standard of research given, the faces that came far and wide (some of which were sadly missing in Sydney) and of course the social activities.

Sydney, however, delivered. Firstly huge congratulations to Matt Taylor and the organising committee for pulling off a great conference. What better way to start a fish biology conference than in an Aquarium. The welcome to country was a cracker, really set the scene and was by far the best one we had ever encountered. The welcome drinks is always a great way to start the conference, catching up with fellow fishos around a cold bevvy or two certainly whets the appetite for the proceeding few days. Add in that this was all undertaken around the perimeter of the Dugong enclosure and it almost became surreal. But lettuce move on…

The conference proper consisted of two days of concurrent sessions surrounding the middle day in which the Murray-Darling Basin Native Fish Forum was held. I was invited to assess the student talks (of which there are a number of prizes now!) which meant I was attending some talks I probably wouldn’t normally have gone to and found it to be a great way to be exposed to some new research. I have to say the standard is a little embarrassing, as a 10 year veteran of ASFB conferences, the presentation skills of these upstarts is largely ridiculous, and puts my bumbling efforts to shame. On the subject of students, the student mixer held on Monday evening at UTS was a great opportunity for budding researchers to tap into a wealth of experience the senior members of the ASFB possess, and from all reports, a success on that front. Sort out the line for the bar and it would’ve been an A+ event!

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The student mixer was a great chance for young and old to mingle and despite whinging about the line-up for the bar, I’m pictured here (albeit in the background), double parked….

 

The Native Fish Forum on day 2 was the highlight. From John Koehn’s proclamation that he, “loves fish”, to the outstanding presentation of the power of recreational fishers to enhance fish habitat given by Matt Hansen. Martin Mallen-Cooper’s presentation on hydrology vs Hydraulics also resonated with me, some really simple solutions for the homogenous habitat in the lower Murray! Brenton Zampatti’s presentation on carp response from infrastructure induced floodplain inundation was also a bell ringer! On a sad note, as it always is when brought up, is the death of the Native Fish Strategy, around which most of the presentations of the forum were based. The rousing introduction and conclusion given by Craig Copeland, along with the work of all those present in the room, will hopefully ensure that the legacy of the Strategy lives long and prospers (and I’m not even a trekky) and we continue to make headway towards that goal of native fish restoration.

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John Koehn loves fish, and old men with Beards. But who doesn’t.

 

What better way to wrap up three intense days of fish conferencing, than a leisurely dinner cruise around Sydney Harbour after nightfall. Top notch, great company and quiet ale or two made for a most enjoyable finale. For all its faults, this city is pretty bloody spectacular from the water after dark.

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Its all fun and games until the Polaroid comes out…

 

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My cheesy mug and Sydney’s finest night-time views

 

Cheers Sydney and bring on Tassie!

 

Ben and Larz

ZebCovershot

MDBASFB

28 October 2015-10-28

G’day Ebb,

The current climate of funding pressures and heavy workloads has resulted in most of us having our heads buried in our own backyard the past year. So the 2015 ASFB conference provided a timely opportunity to catch up with peers and get up to speed with the latest research from across the country. The MDB native fish theme was particularly timely, given it has been several years since not only researchers, but other key stakeholders could interact.

Zeb Tonkin

Covershot cropped

European carp, Australia’s toughest invasive fish species?

By Jonah Yick

The Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) is regarded as one of the most invasive species in the world (Lowe et al. 2000), not only because of its destructive feeding habits, but its resilience in a variety of environments, and highly fecund reproductive nature. In addition to competing with native fish species for food and space (Brumley 1991, Diggle et al. 2012, Fletcher et al. 1985, Koehn et al. 2000), carp are also responsible for habitat degradation and the increasing turbidity in the waters they inhabit (Koehn et al. 2000). The first records of carp introductions in Australia occurred in 1859 and 1865, where carp were released into ponds in Victoria and New South Wales, respectively (Koehn et al. 2000). However, these fish were isolated to these water bodies, and it wasn’t till the 1900s when carp were released into the wild (Koehn et al. 2000). The spread of carp remained fairly limited until carp were introduced into the Murray River in Victoria in 1964, where they proceeded to disperse throughout the Murray-Darling Basin (Koehn et al. 2000). The spread was further assisted by widespread flooding in the early 1970s, as well as the translocation of fish to new localities (Koehn et al. 2000). Carp are now established in every state in Australia bar the Northern Territory, including isolated populations in Western Australia and Tasmania (Koehn et al. 2000). It is the population in Tasmania which continues to push the biological boundaries of this species, where carp continue to survive despite the relentless efforts of the Tasmanian Carp Management Program, and the extreme climates associated with their location.

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Picture 1. A group of carp huddling close together for protection, this photo also features a close relative the goldfish, which is often the culprit of numerous carp sighting reports to the Inland Fisheries Service each year.

The biology of the common carp is what makes them so destructive, and once established in a particular water, makes the task of eradication difficult and in many cases impossible. The biology is summarised clearly by Koehn et al. (2000), which states that carp have broad environmental tolerances and thrive in habitats that have been disturbed by human activities. Although carp can grow to weigh 60 kg and 1200 mm in length (Brumley 1996), fish in the 50 gram to 5 kg range are more commonly seen (Koehn et al. 2000). Female carp mature between 2-4 years of age and can produce over a million eggs each year (Koehn et al. 2000). This estimate in egg production is largely dependent on the body size/maturity of the fish. They may also spawn several times in a year if conditions are adequate. The carp’s ability to grow quickly to a large size, and feed at low levels of the food chain suggests that they may prevent the transfer of energy and nutrients to populations of other large fish (Koehn et al. 2000). In particular, Carp feed by filter feeding small particles from either the water column or sediment, and it is this behavior that results in the stirring up of fine sediments and increasing turbidity (Koehn et al. 2000). When you take all these factors into account, you can see why the carp is regarded as one of the most invasive species in the world!

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Picture 2. Spawning carp in the warm shallows

The majority of carp research in Australia has been focused on the Murray-Darling Basin, however, the Tasmanian model is unique in that the carp are now isolated to a single lake located in the central highlands, where the chance of complete carp eradication for the State is still a reality. Carp were discovered in Tasmania in the interconnected lakes Crescent and Sorell in 1995 (Diggle et al.2004, Donkers et al.2012). This occurred on the 28th January 1995, when an angler found the remains of a fish that was being eaten by a sea eagle (Diggle et al. 2012). After confirming that the fish was a carp, the IFS undertook back-pack electrofishing surveys on the 1st February, which confirmed that carp were present in Lake Crescent (Diggle et al. 2012). The outflow from Lake Crescent was closed and downstream surveys began immediately. Lake Crescent was closed to the public on the 18th February (Diggle et al. 2012). The outlet structure at Lake Crescent was fitted with an internal 1 mm meshed screen and the outflow was reopened on the 24th February to supply water for downstream domestic and stock use (Diggle et al. 2012).

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Picture 3. Legislation enabled Lake Crescent to be closed to the public soon after carp were discovered

The discovery of carp raised immediate alarm and concern in the Tasmanian community at large, including state agencies, anglers, environmentalists, and farmers (Diggle et al. 2012). Initially a carp task force was formed, which later evolved into a working group with expert representatives (Diggle et al. 2012). The task force identified the following objectives:

1. Contain carp to the lakes Sorell/Crescent catchment

2. Develop a water management plan that provides for and protects the water supplies for Bothwell, Hamilton and irrigators to achieve objective 1 and assist with 3 and 4 below

3. Reduce the existing carp population

4. Eradication of carp

5. Prevent introduction to new water bodies and the reintroduction to cleared waters from both inter and intra state sources

6. Undertake legislative and communication strategies to minimise damage to tourism, while facilitating the above objectives.

Physical removal was deemed the best option and involved using an integrated fish down approach. This included the use of electrofishing (back-pack and boat), net fishing (gill and seine nets), traps (steel and fyke nets), and tracker fish (carp surgically implanted with radio transmitters) (Macdonald and Wisniewski 2011, Walker and Donkers 2011). Further recruitment was also prevented by deploying a combination of wire mesh and purpose built polyethylene barrier nets to block carp from their preferred spawning habitats (Diggle et al. 2012, Taylor et al. 2012). After maintaining vigilant fishing effort for many years, the last wild carp was removed from Lake Crescent in December 2007 (Donkers et al. 2012).

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Picture 4. A haul of carp captured from Lake Crescent using a seine net

Since then sampling surveys have been undertaken each year to confirm the eradication of carp from Lake Crescent, and for the last 8 years there has not been any presence of carp. The eradication of carp from Lake Crescent has now allowed increased effort and resources to be focussed on Lake Sorell, using the same techniques proven in Lake Crescent but modifying them when required in order to improve efficiency.

Carp eradication in Lake Sorell posed a lot more issues than Lake Crescent due to its larger size and diverse habitat (rocky shores, deep reef structures, and large expanses of marshes). Carp numbers were relatively low in Lake Sorell until a large recruitment event in 2009, where juvenile carp were detected at various marshes around the lake (Inland Fisheries Service 2010). Rotenone was used to kill over 14 000 fish in the 6 weeks after the discovery, however it was estimated that approximately 50 000 fish were recruited in this event (Inland Fisheries Service 2010, 2012). Over the next 6 years the proven techniques and strategies used in Lake Crescent were used to remove as many carp as possible from Lake Sorell. Some of these strategies evolved but the principles still remained the same; to prevent spawning and to continue to catch as many carp as possible each year.

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Picture 5. Juvenile carp aggregating in the warm shallows made targeting them with gill nets very efficient

The focus of the majority of the fishing effort remained on the carp from the 2009 cohort, however, small numbers of larger individuals caught from previous cohorts were still popping up each year (Inland Fisheries Service 2011, 2012, 2015). A mark-recapture population study was implemented in January 2012 in order to try and get a better grip on how many carp were actually left in the lake (Inland Fisheries Service 2012). This method was based on a similar study undertaken in Lake Crescent over the 1998-99 season, which yielded very accurate results (Donkers et al. 2012, Inland Fisheries Service 2012). A total of 803 juvenile carp from the 2009 cohort were captured, tagged, and released back into the lake (Inland Fisheries Service 2012).

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Picture 6. One of the carp tagged as part of the mark-recapture population estimate.

Following the release of the carp, running estimates of the remaining carp population were able to be calculated based on the recapture ratios of tagged to un-tagged carp. Not only was this handy for the IFS to know when reporting back to stakeholder groups, but it was also beneficial towards the morale and drive of the Carp Management Program. The estimated number of fish remaining demonstrated that a real impact on the population was being made, and the goal of eradication was getting closer.

Although the peak carp season is defined as the months between October and February (peak water temperatures in conjunction with rising lake levels), fishing effort continues in the cooler months. Koehn et al. (2000) states that carp can adapt to water temperatures as low as 2oC and as high as 35oC. The carp’s ability to survive in such a broad range of temperatures is nothing short of amazing, and to witness carp being caught in such low temperatures is testament to their resilience. The Central Highlands of Tasmania is known for its inclement wild weather, and although it limits their growth, it fails to stop the mighty carp. Although the carp become significantly less active in colder weather, they still continue to move around the lake when conditions are suitable. Historically, transmitter fish were seen to congregatein just two marginally deeper locations of Lake Sorell in winter (Inland Fisheries Service 2014, Taylor et al. 2012). It is likely that the deeper water in these areas has a stable and warmer overall temperature, as it is less influenced by external environmental factors, thus the carp move to these areas to seek warmth. Although some carp have been caught as a result of these winter aggregations, the last few winters have proven difficult, as the fish have been widely dispersed around the lake due to high lake levels.

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Picture 7. A cold, still morning at the IFS Lake Crescent Field Station.

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Picture 8 (a & b). There aren’t many places around Australia where carp management activities occur in this sort of weather!

 

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Picture 9. It makes it hard to catch carp when shards of ice are tangled up in the gillnet!

 

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Picture 10. Despite the water temperature dropping to 2.4oC with the surface of the water frozen solid, these carp were still kicking around when removed from this holding pen.

 

Picture11a Picture11b

Picture 11 (a & b). A catch of spring carp in cold, snowy conditions

 

Is it possible to eradicate carp from Lake Sorell, you may ask? The last 2014/15 financial year resulted in 1254 carp caught, which brings the total number of carp removed from Lake Sorell to 40 135 since their discovery in 1995 (Inland Fisheries Service 2015).Locating and targeting fish is becoming increasingly difficult. Consistent and high levels of gill net effort have been identified as the fundamental technique for not only fishing the population down, but also reducing the risk of spawning. As many as 13 gill nets, measuring anywhere from 100 to 750m each, were set and retrieved each day during the peak fishing period from October to February (Inland Fisheries Service 2015). The majority of these nets were set over night. Despite drastically increasing the fishing pressure by 30 times in the last two seasons, the total carp catch and catch per unit effort (CPUE) continued to decline (Inland Fisheries Service 2015).

Therefore it was recently decided to review the population estimate generated from the mark recapture survey, given the low catch rates despite increased fishing effort. The new estimate accounted for both natural mortality, and various scenarios of tag-induced mortality (Inland Fisheries Service 2015). By taking these factors into account, it was estimated that the remaining population size of carp in Lake Sorell as of July 2015 could range from 2078 to 3603 fish. This is strongly influenced by the percentage of tagging mortality considered (Inland Fisheries Service 2015). Active fishing continues to remove the larger fish from the population limiting the number of fish reaching maturity. It is envisaged that by the end of the 2017/18 season, the Carp Management Program will eradicate carp from Lake Sorell…Then, whats next? Redfin Perch? Tench? Goldfish? foxes..?!

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Picture 12. Electrofishing a small aggregation of carp in the shallows over the 2014/15 summer

For more information on the trials and tribulations of the Tasmanian Carp Management Program, please contact Jonah Yick at [email protected].

The Inland Fisheries Service Website includes links to many of the publications cited in this article:

http://www.ifs.tas.gov.au/

 

Bibliography

Brumley AR (1991) Cyprinids of Australasia. Pp. 264–83 in: JS Nelson and IJ Winfield (eds) Biology of Cyprinid Fishes. Chapman and Hall, London.

Brumley AR (1996) Cyprinids. Pp. 99–106 in: R. McDowall (ed.) Freshwater Fishes of South-Eastern Australia. 2nd edn. Reed Books, Sydney.

Diggle J, Day J, and Bax N (2004) Eradicating European carp from Tasmania and implications for national European carp eradication. Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Final Project Report (Project No. 2000/182), Canberra.

Diggle J, Patil J, and Wisniewski C. (2012) A manual for carp control: The Tasmanian model. PestSmart Toolkit publication, Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Canberra, Australia, 28.

Donkers P, Patil JG, Wisniewski C, and Diggle JE (2012) Validation of mark–recapture population estimates for invasive common carp, Cyprinus carpio, in Lake Crescent, Tasmania. Journal of Applied Ichthyology. 28: 7–14.

Fletcher AR, Morison AK and Hume DJ (1985) Effects of carp (Cyprinus carpio L.) on aquatic vegetation and turbidity of waterbodies in the lower Goulburn River Basin. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 36: 311–327.

Inland Fisheries Service (IFS) (2010) Carp Management Program Annual Report 2009/2010. Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

Inland Fisheries Service (IFS) (2011) Carp Management Program Annual Report 2010/2011. Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

Inland Fisheries Service (IFS) (2012) Carp Management Program Annual Report 2011/2012. Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

Inland Fisheries Service (IFS) (2014) Carp Management Program Annual Report 2013/2014. Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

Inland Fisheries Service (IFS) (2015) Carp Management Program Annual Report 2014/2015. Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

Koehn JD, Brumley A and Gehrke P (2000) Managing the impacts of carp. Bureau of Rural Sciences. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.

Lowe S, Browne M, Boudjelas S and De Poorter M (2000) 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species A selection from the Global Invasive Species Database. The Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG). International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Macdonald A and Wisniewski C (2011) The use of biotelemtry in controlling the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) in lakes Crescent and Sorell. Technical Report No. 1. Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

Taylor AH, Tracey SR, Hartmann K, and Patil JG (2012) Exploiting seasonal habitat use of the common carp, Cyprinus carpio, in a lacustrine system for management and eradication. Marine and Freshwater Research. 63(7): 587-597.

Walker R and Donkers P (2011) An examination of the selectivity of fishing equipment in relation to controlling the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) in Lakes Crescent and Sorell. Technical Report No. 2. Inland Fisheries Service, Hobart.

 

Editor’s note: This is a thoroughly prepared article based on an impressive applied research and management commitment that is supported by outstanding photographs. A massive thank you to Jonah for contributing this article.