Rehabilitating Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia: Politics and People, Successes and Failures
John D. Koehn
Abstract .—The Murray–Darling basin (MDB) in southeastern Australia, covers 1.1 million km2, involves six partner jurisdictions with a myriad of different government agencies, and, hence, provides an excellent example of the complexities of multijurisdictional management across a range of social and political tiers. In the MDB, fish and fisheries compete for water with agriculture, which is the traditional water user and is driven by national economics. Murray–Darling basin rivers are now highly regulated and generally in poor health, with native fish populations estimated to be at only about 10% of their pre-European settlement abundances. All native commercial fisheries are now closed, and the only harvest is by a recreational fishery. The six partner jurisdictions developed a Native Fish Strategy (NFS) to rehabilitate native fish populations to 60% of pre-European settlement levels after 50 years of implementation by addressing priority threats through a coordinated, long-term, whole-of-fish-community (all native fishes) approach. As there are a wide range of stakeholders, broad engagement was needed at a broad range of government and community levels. The NFS funding was discontinued after 10 years, not because of its lack of successes or project governance, but due to jurisdictional political changes and funding cuts that resulted in a failure of the collaborative funding structure. The withdrawal of considerable funding by one jurisdiction led to collective decline in monetary contributions and posed a threat to the multijurisdictional structures for both water and natural resource management (NRM) within the MDB. As a consequence, there was a review and reduction in NRM programs and a subsequent reduction in focus to the core business of water delivery. Reflection on the NFS, however, provides some useful insights as to the successes (many) and failures (funding) of this partnership model. Overall, the strategy and its structure was effective, as exhibited by an audit of outputs, outcomes, and networks; by the evident ongoing advocacy by NRM practitioners and the community; and by the continuation of ideas under other funding opportunities. This has provided a powerful legacy for future management of fishes in the MDB.