Fellowship for fish research

FISH TALES: Craig Copeland (centre) on a field trip with recreational fishers in Ballina for the Fishers for Fish Habitat Forum.
FISH TALES: Craig Copeland (centre) on a field trip with recreational fishers in Ballina for the Fishers for Fish Habitat Forum.

WOLLONGBAR-based fish habitat crusader, Craig Copeland, has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the US, Wales and Ireland to study how recreational fishers are motivated to improve fish habitat, and thus increase stocks of fish.

It's something Australian recreational fishers are only slowly catching on to, Craig told The Echo.

Craig is the manager of the Conservation Action Unit within the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), and has established the NSW Fish Habitat Network, which aims to inform recreational fishers about fish habitat and ecology and is initiating a Habitat Grant Program whereby funding can be allocated to get fishers involved and motivated to fix up problem areas.

"Most fish in coastal NSW have some part of their life cycle in rivers," he explained.

"The major species that our fishers catch - bream, whiting, flathead and tailor - all spend part of their life cycle in our estuaries.

"But we have problems such as floodplain wetlands having been drained, creeks floodgated and sedimentation producing nutrients - a huge backlog of problems that we can't just blame on farmers, because their actions were supported by all levels of governnment for many years, before we knew what we know now.

"Collectively, we're all to blame.

"Now in many places the riparian (bordering river) zones are completely denuded of trees and vegetation, and there are barriers to the passage of fish within rivers."

Craig said that in the US and UK, fishers were more motivated to repair environmental damage in the interests of boosting fish stocks.

"About 30% of UK fishers are actively engaged in doing work on the ground, planting trees and pursuing habitat improvement," he said.

"Australian fishers are not so active in that way. It's slowly changing, but we could always do more."

"Craig is highly regarded throughout Australia for his work in aquatic habitat rehabilitation," said NSW DPI director-general, Richard Sheldrake.

"He has led the pioneering unit responsible for fish habitat rehabilitation in NSW, which has resulted in massive improvements to fish habitat and fish populations through initiatives such as fishway construction, weir removals, fish-friendly road crossings, floodgate management, riparian revegetation and river resnagging programs."

Churchill Fellowships, on average valued at more than $20,000, aim to give recipients the opportunity to travel overseas to further their passion, and to implement and share their findings on their return to Australia.

Craig plans to take his fellowship in early 2013. He'll report back to the fishing community later in the year.

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