A major research and monitoring program is seeking recreational fishers to contribute by collecting certain parts of the fish they are catching for the dinner table. The Victorian Environmental Flows Monitoring and Assessment Program (VEFMAP) Stage 6 includes a citizen science project to help us measure the benefits to fish of environmental watering events. VEFMAP is monitoring sites in northern Victoria, where water is being delivered into rivers to improve the migration, spawning and survival of recreational fish species such as Murray Cod and Golden Perch. Sites include the Goulburn, mid-Murray, Broken, Loddon and Campaspe rivers, and Pyramid and Gunbower creeks.

Our fish monitoring includes analysis of fish ‘ear bones’ (known as otoliths; people have them too) which are small calcium carbonate structures within a fish head that aid in balance and hearing. Amazingly, by looking at these small otoliths under a microscope, we can learn a great deal about the growth, age, origin and movement history of a fish. To collect enough samples, and rather than catching extra fish, we would like to tap into the great resource of fishers. This means that we can use fish that fishers are already catching and keeping for eating, while also taking the opportunity to build people’s awareness of environmental watering and foster local stewardship in environmental rehabilitation.

A fish otolith, or ear bone

Yellow plus signs mark growth lines on this fish otolith, or ear bone; in this case the fish is 21 years old.

Our citizen science project will run from early 2018 to December 2019, and we plan to work with local fishers and fishing clubs, the Victorian Fisheries Authority, the North Central Catchment Management Authority and Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority to promote the project and seek interested participants. Working together with fishers who contribute otoliths to the project will improve our scientific knowledge, increase awareness of VEFMAP and the benefits of environmental watering, and increase connections between scientists and fishers.

For more information or to find out how to become involved, contact: pam.clunie@delwp.vic.gov.au

The following fact sheet provides more detail on this project:

A short video titled "What can fish ear bones tell us?" is available on the DELWP YouTube channel, and can also be viewed below: