Endangered catfish get marooned in Sunraysia’s irrigation channels, but it’s illegal to help

Many native fish, including endangered catfish, have been rescued from Sunraysia’s irrigation channels in Victoria’s north-west this winter, but what some of these fish’s friends are doing is illegal.

Each year, channel operators Lower Murray Water drain them to perform maintenance like repairing walls and clearing silt, but fish get stranded in small pools of water.

Sixteen-year-old Deluca Taylor said in the past few weeks he had seen 30 catfish in the channels around Irymple, some alive and others dead.

He keeps an eye out for catfish with nowhere to go.

To help, concerned residents have been entering the irrigation channels to rescue the remaining catfish, taking them to other nearby waterways like Kings Billabong.

But Deluca has discovered it is against the law.

Despite being illegal, some concerned residents have been rescuing the fish.(ABC Rural: Kellie Hollingworth)

“They’re an endangered species and they should be in the rivers where they belong. They shouldn’t be in water this shallow,” Deluca said.

Deluca Taylor stands beside the irrigation channel at Irymple
Maraura teen Deluca Taylor wants to help the catfish.(ABC Rural: Kellie Hollingworth)

Lower Murray Water discourages people from entering the channels.

“The channel banks can be slippery and awfully dangerous,” said managing director Anthony Couroupis.

Instead, people who spot native fish in irrigation channels should contact Lower Murray Water or one of the agencies involved in fish rescues.

A catfish that has been rescued is in a small white bucket and is about to be put in a larger tank
One of the catfish rescued from Lower Murray Water’s irrigation channels.(Supplied: Lower Murray Water)

Catfish saved

OzFish Unlimited, the Victorian Fisheries Authority, Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, North Central Catchment Management Authority, and the Arthur Rylah Institute rescued many native fish from the channels in May.

The fish now have new homes hundreds of kilometers from Mildura.

“One is a breeding facility at Snobs Creek, operated by the Victorian Fisheries Authority, where the fish will spawn the next generation of catfish and help save the species from extinction,” Mr Couroupis said.

“The other location is Broken Creek, which is an important creek for the Yorta Yorta Indigenous community who are looking to bring catfish back to this stream.”

Two men stand in the irrigation channel in thigh deep water.  One is holding a bucket
Several agencies work together to remove native fish from the irrigation channels.(Supplied: Lower Murray Water)
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