Why fish have more to fear from flooding than most of us do

LOOK OUT! Get away from that wall of brown water! Flee for your lives!

I'm talking to the fish here. It's ironic but those critters with the fins and gills have more to fear from potential flooding than most of us have.

Even very moderate rainfall can produce enough turbid runoff to badly affect estuarine water quality, especially in the Richmond River.

Prolonged cloudy water kills off seagrass and other aquatic plants which rely on sunlight to photosynthesise. The communities of microorganisms, worms, crustaceans and molluscs that rely on these plants then fail, removing food for any remaining fish.

Even prior to this rain event, for some months there hasn't been water suitable for the traditional recreational species like bream, flathead, whiting and mulloway much upstream of Broadwater.

Freshwater-tolerant species like bass and mullet, and the dreaded carp, have fared a little better in the middle and upper reaches of the river and its tributaries, as long as they've been able to access well-oxygenated water and vegetation that can support river life.

But the estuary fish that need brackish to salty water have been concentrated in the very bottom reaches of the Richmond, Brunswick and Evans rivers as freshwater runoff increases.

The east coast low is forecast to move south tomorrow, turning moderating winds around to the south-west, but the swell is still going to be big enough to warrant caution on exposed rocks, breakwalls and beaches.

It's a great excuse to stay home and dry.

But if you can find somewhere sheltered and safe to fish this weekend, you could take advantage of the estuary fish as they head downstream on the rising floodwaters.

Look for areas where the river water joins the sea, especially if there is some shelter from the wind and wave action. You won't be the only one waiting for those smaller fish taking refuge: Mulloway and sharks will be major predators lurking nearby.

The breakwalls will be the primary venues but watch those wet, slippery rocks - they're very unforgiving.

Bream, whiting, flathead and school mulloway should be available before the flood peak hits early next week. Yabbies, prawns and worms should work well, although blades and soft plastics should also score fish before the water gets too murky.

Net decline

ANYONE who still wants to deny the Richmond River is in a state of decline as a fishery should look away now or stick their heads back in the sand.

With only nine weeks to go until the end of the financial year, Ballina Fishermen's Co-op figures indicate that commercial landings of the major estuarine species - apart from mullet - have reached historic lows.

The progressive 2014-15 total of bream, flathead, whiting, luderick and mulloway landed through the co-op is under two tonnes, down from almost four tonnes in 2013-14 and 5.04 tonnes in 2012-2013.

Topics:  environment fishing floods outdoor-living

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