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Mulloway, not carp, belong in the Murray River's estuary

By Jennifer Marohasy - posted Tuesday, 13 August 2013


Hundreds of tonnes of carp are commercially harvested every year from Lake Alexandrina and much of what is not used for cray bait or human consumption is converted into the plant fertilizer, Charlie Carp. The commercial carp fishery in the Lower Murray in 2008/2009 was reported as 792 tonnes worth A$863,000.

The local commercial carp fishermen, including Henry Jones, are very outspoken about the need to increase freshwater flows to the dammed estuary.

But of course they never say, "dammed estuary"!

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Rather they pretend that the water is for the environment. They pretend that they are doing their bit to get rid of the carp by commercially harvesting them. In fact, if the estuary was restored and the Southern Ocean allowed to roll-in each autumn as it once did naturally, there would be no carp fishery because there would be no carp: they would be flushed out to sea with the tides.

Instead, as part of an on-going and misguided environmental campaign, ostensibly about water reform in the Murray Darling and, in particular, the need for more water for the "Murray's mouth", the Australian government has legislated a new Basin Plan.

So successful has the campaigning been that the freshwater allocation for Lake Alexandrina will continue to increase, and at no cost to carp fishermen. The cost is in fact being wholly born by the Australian taxpayer who, via the Murray Darling Basin Authority, with $10 billion of your hard earned cash, is buying irrigation licences from farmers to send the freshwater down the river to Mr Jones and the European carp.

Indeed Australians have been badly mislead into believing that by taking about 1/3 of all the water used to produce food in the Murray Darling Basin and sending it down the River, the sea mouth of the Murray River can be kept open 90 per cent of the time. In fact the tides of the Southern Ocean could scour the mouth of the Murray, at no expense to Australian taxpayers, if only the Murray River's estuary were restored.

It is no secret that much of the water bought back from irrigators will be sent down to the dammed estuary. But it is just not reported that the estuary is dammed or that there is not much natural environment left in or around Lake Alexandrina: that in effect the environmental flow is being delivered to a carp fishery surrounded by farmland and new housing estates. Of course if the estuary was restored the mulloway would come back. And the mulloway fishery can exist independently of freshwater environmental flows at the expense of food production. The mulloway fishermen harvested nature's natural bounty.

What a sham and what a pity, given this environmental water could be used to water natural wetland further upstream or even to grow food. Australia must be indeed a rich country if we can afford to spend $10 billion dollars subsiding a carp fishery.

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About the Author

Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs.

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