Max & Tristan: The mystery of the missing catfish

Mentor: Tristan Skinner – Murray-Darling Basin Authority
Mentee and Author: Max Smiles-Schmidt – North Central Catchment Management Authority

The following video was taken during field surveys in November 2023 with the discussion focussing on the Waterway Managers Emerging Leaders Program and why we do what we do.

During 2023, I have undertaken a study aimed at bettering our understanding of Freshwater catfish populations within Turner and Phyland Lagoons which are located along Gunbower Creek. The overarching goal has been to understand their abundance and population dynamics, while also investigating the drivers of recent recruitment success.

The project, funded through The Living Murray (TLM) program, was put forward for the Waterway Managers Emerging Leaders Program by myself, Max – a project officer at the North Central Catchment Management Authority. I was paired with my mentor, Tristan Skinner from the Murray Darling Basin Authority. This turned out to be a great pairing as we both share a lot of interests and Tristans’ expertise was very well received by me.

Max and tristan 4

During the program much of the planning and inception phases of the project were undertaken. This was invaluable as monitoring for a benthic species as hard to catch as Freshwater catfish can be a tricky undertaking and the project design required ongoing refinement.

Field surveys were conducted in early November 2023, with Ecology Australia undertaking fyke netting and electrofishing and La Trobe University undertaking ARIS sonar imagery capture and analysis. We were also very fortunate to have Yorta Yorta Traditional Owners (TOs) along to undertake monitoring with La Trobe University ecologists. The feedback provided from the TOs regarding this monitoring was very positive with some incredible imagery taken of turtles and catfish swimming around the lagoons.

The study is currently in the data analysis stages therefore we do not have any final results to share at this stage, however, the low catch which occurred provides further evidence to the impact that the 2022 unregulated flooding and associated blackwater event had on this population of Freshwater catfish.

The findings from this project will feed back into the TLM Gunbower icon sites’ environmental water management as well as into the Gunbower and Lower-Loddon Native Fish Recovery Plan.

As for what is next with myself and Tristans’ mentoring journey, I hope that this is just the start. We have formed a great relationship and will continue to meet frequently.

Max and Tristan graduating from the Program in 2023.
Max and Tristan graduating from the Program in 2023.

Apply Now for 2024!

Applications are now open for The Waterway Management Emerging Leaders Program in 2024. The Program is a structured mentoring program focusing on improving the on-ground delivery of current Victorian riparian restoration projects. This Program provides an opportunity for the most effective approaches to be shared and adopted between all those working in waterway management across the State.