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Catfish, conservation and community: rehabilitating Mullinmur Billabong

Wangaratta Landcare Sustainability Network Inc’s Kelvin Berry at Mullinmur Billabong, by Manifeasto Photography

A dedicated community effort followed by a delivery of water for the environment has prepared a new home for threatened native freshwater catfish at Mullinmur Billabong in Wangaratta.

The delivery of water for the environment in December 2019 came after the Wangaratta Landcare and Sustainability Inc, with support from the community, undertook extensive work at the wetland in preparation to re-establish the threatened native freshwater catfish.

“It’s been an incredible community effort to get to the point that we can translocate freshwater catfish,” said Wangaratta Landcare and Sustainability Inc’s Kelvin Berry.

“The project began several years ago when we developed the Mullinmur Wetland Management Plan, it’s really exciting to get to this point. We have worked with various groups of people along the way and now the hard work is really worth it,” he said.

Recent works to improve the billabong included; planting native water plants, removing carp and adding pebbles which are used by the catfish to build nests. These works complement many other activities by Wangaratta Landcare and Sustainability Inc and partners to improve the site and raise community awareness about healthy waterways, river flows and biodiversity, including weed removal, revegetation, water quality and biodiversity monitoring, signage and infrastructure installations, and community field days.

North East Catchment Management Authority, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder with support from Galen College delivered 10 ML of water for the environment to Mullinmur Billabong, the final step to ensuring an optimal habitat for freshwater catfish.

“It is great to be able to bring water for the environment to this site,” said North East CMA’s Catherine McInerney.

“Wangaratta Landcare and Sustainability Inc’s and the community have been working really hard to create a space that will not only support freshwater catfish but will also support the community. School groups have already been involved in some of the work achieved here and it will be great to see more education opportunities develop - like the water monitoring that is currently underway,” she said.

The effort behind preparing the site relocating the freshwater catfish from Barham Lake in NSW to Mullinmur Billabong demonstrated a huge collaboration between numerous organisations:

  • Wangaratta Landcare Sustainability Network Inc
  • Barham Angling Club
  • Barham Landcare
  • Edward-Wakool Angling Association
  • Barham Club
  • Gallen Catholic College
  • Borinya Wangaratta Community Partnership
  • Wangaratta High School
  • the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s Arthur Rylah Institute
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority
  • NSW DPI Fisheries
  • North East CMA
  • Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
  • Victorian Environmental Water Holder

Sixty catfish were moved to Mullinmur Billabong and will contribute to the future breeding stock of our Victorian rivers!

“It was a unique opportunity to help the recovery of a threatened fish by recreating a new population within their former habitat,” said Arthur Rylah Institute’s Renae Ayres.

“We expect that the freshwater catfish re-located into the wetland will survive and breed.”

“There are lots of fallen logs and woody habitat for the catfish to take cover in. Freshwater catfish also prefer aquatic vegetation, so when the new aquatic plants establish that will further improve the diversity of habitat available for catfish,” she said.

Relocating catfish at Horseshoe Lagoon

Working to re-locate freshwater catfish to Mullinmur Billabong, by Manifeasto Photography

Community members and agencies who contributed to the rehabilitation and re-location came together to see the fish move into their new home, celebrating the release and the success of the project.

Wangaratta Landcare and Sustainability Inc and students from three local schools will be monitoring salinity levels at the site informing future management and ensuring ideal conditions for freshwater catfish are maintained.

Read more about freshwater catfish in our Creature Feature