By ESTHER MACINTYRE
FOR the next 12 months, fishing at Pooncarie Weir has been banned by the New South Wales Government to protect native fish and allow their populations to recover.
Angler Wilbur Wilson agrees the ban is necessary to replenish fish stocks in the Lower Darling.
“The main problem is that the weir was raised, and the fish ladder doesn’t work anymore,” Mr Wilson said.
“Basically there’s water coming down the Darling at the moment, and all of the fish want to push up into that water and breed, but they can’t.
“So they’re getting trapped below the weir at Pooncarie and they’re just sitting ducks in that water because they’re all schooled up there.”
He described the situation as akin to “shooting fish in a barrel”.
“They’re stacked up there and they haven’t got a chance,” he said.
The Natural Resources Access Regulator has since fined Wentworth Council $1500 for making alterations to the Pooncarie town weir that didn’t comply with a works approval.
“Which isn’t much, but I understand why they put those ‘hungry boards’ in … they wanted to shore up the water supply for Pooncarie,” Mr Wilson said.
Hungry boards raise the weir, allowing it to carry more water.
“When the river stopped flowing, I can completely understand why they did that, but unfortunately it’s created this problem now where the fish can’t use that fishway to get through.”
“I’ve seen the pictures of the weir and it’s increased probably 600mL, so half a metre, and that half a metre’s just upset the levels for the fish,” Mr Wilson said.
“Usually how it works is it gradually allows the water level to rise in chambers, so the fish can go through each chamber to get to the higher level of water in the next pool.
Ideally, the fish below Pooncarie could travel up to Menindee and breed in the lakes, then the resulting fingerlings could come back and filter all the way down into the Murray River.
“It’s a major, major breeding area, the Menindee Lakes,” Mr Wilson said.
During the disastrous fish kills last year, Mr Wilson was involved with OzFish in fish rescues in the Lower Darling.
“During the last drought lots of fish have died, so the Darling is really relying on a good breeding season to help repopulate a lot of the fish numbers in the Lower Darling area,” he said.
“So the idea behind banning fishing from 150 metres from the weir is to give them some room, and they’ll actually end up breeding there if they can’t get any higher,” said Mr Wilson.