FRUSTRATED local fishers have been unable to get their hands on Murray crayfish for years but a new restocking program may just be the answer to their prayers.
Hundreds of the coveted crayfish are being released into the Murray Darling waters near Echuca-Moama as part of a two-year stocking program to bolster the dwindling crayfish population.
The program comes after the major floods in 2010 and 2011 dealt a serious blow to the crayfish population, whose numbers had declined so much they are now listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species in NSW.
Crayfishing has since been banned in the Echuca-Moama region but local fisherman Maurice McLean said he was optimistic the new stocking program might one day allow locals to start crayfishing again.
“If they could get it going again it’d be great for the area and great for local businesses,” he said.
Mr McLean hasn’t been able to go crayfishing in nine years but said he still has fond memories of going out onto the river with friends and catching crayfish that were almost too large to hold.
“It wasn’t about how many you could catch, it was about getting out in the middle of winter, having a camp, lighting the fires, wiping the frost off the boat, and doing a bit of craying.”
Several other local fishermen also said they remembered a time when the Murray-Darling system was teeming with crays – and cray pots pulled from the river often came back full.
The decline in the crayfish population was a mix of black water events, land use practices, and broadscale river regulations according the NSW Department of Primary Industry (DPI), which is running the stocking program.
Fishing “does not appear” to have been a primary cause of the species decline according to the NSW DPI, but it urged local fishers to follow the rules to help with the crayfish recovery effort.
Mr McLean said tourists were notorious among locals for breaking the crayfishing rules.
“It frustrates the locals. The tourists know the rules but they come and fish out the area then go somewhere else,” he said.
NSW DPI fisheries manager Trevor Daly said the stocking program was necessary, given the crayfish’s slow growth rate.
“It is hoped the translocation and release efforts will assist their recovery and ensure their long-term future,” Dr Daly said.
“Murray crayfish are an iconic Australian species and an essential part of the Murray Darling Basin ecosystem.”
Detailed information on the rules and regulations can be found on the NSW DPI website or the Victorian Fisheries Authority fishing guide.
Anyone who sees illegal crayfish fishing can call 13FISH (133474).
■For details go to dpi.nsw.gov.au