GOOD JOB: The fishway upgrade took only a day to complete but the planning started more than a year ago.
GOOD JOB: The fishway upgrade took only a day to complete but the planning started more than a year ago.

Weir repair helps Richmond River fish migration

WHAT did the bass say when it swam straight into the Jabour Weir at Casino? Until yesterday, "Dam!" But from today, it simply swims over it.

Installed about 30 years ago to aid the migration of bass, mullet and other Richmond River fish, the weir's fishway gradually fell into disrepair.

That left fish that had ridden autumn floodwaters downstream to their estuary or ocean spawning grounds no way of returning home, nor their offspring to popu- late the freshwater reaches all the way to Kyogle.

Seemingly unlikely allies united to ensure that, finally, the fish of the upper Richmond could return to their sweetwater homes each spring.

Commercial mullet netters at Ballina, 120km downstream, donated $4000 to the project, a proportion of their catch payment set aside annually into a habitat fund.

It is also a contribution to recreational fishers as a "payback" for the concession to net mullet seasonally at Shaws Bay in part of the Ballina Recreational Fishing Zone.

Richmond Valley Council procured all the materials, cut them to fit at cost and provided a day's safety training for the three Kyogle Acclimatisation Society/Fishing Club volunteers who did the renovation yesterday.

Kevin Clark, Barry Reeves and Des Nelson contributed their energy and their time - the best part of a week, if you include all the planning and running around.

The driving force behind the initial fishway, Kevin has been a tireless advocate for the river for a generation.

"We made it by a week or two at the most," he said.

"There'll be thousands of tiny baby bass here within days; they're not far down the river now, along with plenty of big ones heading back up.

"The little ones will be milling around down here for a while and then you won't see them again until they come back down to spawn as adults. "

For Fisheries NSW conservation manager Patrick Dwyer, yesterday's job marked one of the final steps in restoring fish access to the entire length of the Richmond River.

With the old Norco and Manyweathers weirs downstream removed in recent years and the Jabour fishway functional again, the fish of the upper Richmond River have freedom of movement unprecedented in almost half a century. And with Kyogle Council's plans for a new water supply and the removal of that town weir, the final hurdle is in sight.

"This denil-design fishway isn't entirely suitable for the amount of rise in the weir; it should be a lot more gradual, but the new 5mm aluminium baffles and the security screens mean it will last well until a better scheme comes to fruition," Patrick said.

There is a concept study for a larger, more elaborate fishway scheme for the Jabour weir that will likely enable even the tiniest fry to work their way upstream but that will also require larger, more elaborate funding down the track.

The 200-metre catch-and-release only zone will remain in force around the weir to ensure that the migrating fish won't be able to be exploited at their most vulnerable.

And it's still okay to catch them below the wall and bucket them safely back over the weir.



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