Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cyclical climate change in action: Desert fishing business booming ...

FLOODS have delivered so much water to southern states that a commercial fishery has sprung up near Lake Eyre, 1000km from the nearest ocean.

Grazier Gary Overton has a commercial fishing licence to net yellowbelly, also known as golden perch or callop, at Lake Hope and Red Lake on his 5600sq km Mulka Station. He catches up to five tonnes a week. The fish are trucked to Adelaide and ice is hauled back on the return trip.

?You get some pretty strange looks on the Birdsville Track when you?re hauling big Canadian iceboxes, with a commercial fishing licence written on the side,? he said.

His licence was issued 20 years ago but so rarely does the desert country get water that the cow cocky has become a professional fisherman just three times.

?There?s a huge population of fish here and the numbers are growing,? he said.

Lake Eyre, 120km away, is at 60 per cent capacity and, unusually, has held water continuously for four years.

Some of the water that starts as rain in northern Australia flows into these lakes after a two-month, 1300km course.

Along the way, fish surviving in remote billabongs spawn, sending millions of offspring down river.

Wrightsair owner Trevor Wright, based at nearby William Creek, said he expected Lake Eyre to be boosted again in the next two months because Cooper Creek and the Thomson, Diamantina, Warrego, Burke, Georgina and Bulloo rivers were in minor to moderate flood.

?All the billabongs are full,? Mr Wright said. ?On average we get water in Lake Eyre only once every 10 years.?

Mr Overton expected Queensland water to reach the lakes about June, pushing fish into deeper water.

The SA Government tightly controls the fishing, a welcome boost to Mr Overton?s vast cattle station, which was so hard hit so hard in the last drought that it was destocked, leaving not a single beast out of 3000.

University of NSW environmental scientist Richard Kingsford said it was rare for Lake Eyre to hold water for such a lengthy period. Eyre held water from 1955 to 1959, from 1973 to 1977 and possibly from 1988 to 1993.

Mr Overton?s yellowbelly sell as Lake Eyre Basin golden perch for $10 to $14/kg, averaging 900g.

From Adelaide they are shipped to Melbourne and Sydney. where they are especially popular with people who have Asian or European heritage and enjoy freshwater fish.

?Most Australians have never tasted yellowbelly,? he said.

Fishing in a terminal water system is a short-term occupation, with the lakes expected to dry out in 12 to 18 months ? as long as there are no more Queensland floods.

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