Recovery from a fish kill in a semi-arid Australian river: Can stocking augment natural recruitment processes?

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Localized catastrophic events can dramatically affect fish populations. Management interventions, such as stocking, are often undertaken to re-establish populations that have experienced such events. Evaluations of the effectiveness of these interventions are required to inform future management actions. Multiple hypoxic blackwater events in 2010–2011 substantially reduced fish communities in the Edward-Wakool river system in the southern Murray-Darling Basin, New South Wales, Australia. These events led to extensive fish kills across large sections of the entire system following a period of prolonged drought. To expedite recovery efforts, 119 661 golden perch Macquaria ambigua and 59 088 Murray cod Maccullochella peelii fingerlings were stocked at five locations over 3 years. All fish stocked were chemically marked with calcein to enable retrospective evaluation of wild or hatchery origin. Targeted collections were undertaken 3 years post-stocking to investigate the relative contribution of stocking efforts and recovery via natural recruitment in the system. Of the golden perch retained for annual ageing (n = 93) only nine were of an age that could have coincided with stocking activities. Of those, six were stocked. The dominant year-class of golden perch were spawned in 2009; before the stocking programme began and prior to blackwater events. All Murray cod retained (n = 136) were of an age that coincided with stocking activities, although only eight were stocked. Among the Murray cod captured, the dominant year-class was spawned in 2011, after the blackwater events occurred. The results from this study provide first evidence that natural spawning and recruitment, and possibly immigration, were the main drivers of golden perch and Murray cod recovery following catastrophic fish kills. Interpreted in the context of other recent examples, the collective results indicate limited benefit of stocking to existing connected populations already naturally recruiting in riverine systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-226
Number of pages9
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number2
Early online dateAug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2017


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