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Habitat mapping puts rejuvenated Bethungra Dam on the map for anglers

Bethungra Dam is off the beaten track in country NSW but it’s about to be put on the map thanks to OzFish Unlimited’s habitat mapping.

The dam, 70km north-east of Wagga Wagga, is well on its way to becoming a prized destination for the fishing community from far and wide due to a project set up by an OzFish-Landcare NSW partnership, in collaboration with Junee Shire Council, with funding support from the NSW Recreational Fishing Trusts, the Australian Government through the Cooperative Research Centres program and BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.

Junee Shire Council was concerned that there was a lack of habitat in the dam so they contacted OzFish to see how the waterway could be rejuvenated.

Volunteers from OzFish Wagga Wagga Chapter and NSW Landcare jumped into kayaks to help undertake extensive in-stream habitat mapping late last year (2022) and the data they collected showed that there was little in the dam that would help fish to survive and thrive.

Braeden Lampard, OzFish’s senior program manager for the Murray-Darling Basin, said they targeted a section of the dam which already had road access and nearby camping facilities to install new habitats.

“The restoration sites were chosen based on recreational fishing opportunities, site access and navigation,” he said.

“This is the first project of its kind for Bethungra Dam and Junee Shire Council, and we are already having discussions about what to do next.”

They divided the dam into a grid and graded each section containing habitat based on how much value it was providing for the fish population.

OzFish and Junee Shire Council literally sourced their woody debris from the scrapheap.

The council also stored debris from construction works that proved perfect for this project.

The installed structures will provide critical breeding sites, shelter and protection from predators, a place to rest, ambush sites and feeding grounds for aquatic species that have been previously stocked by NSW DPI Fisheries.

As part of the process, further restocking of fish numbers will take place as a way of boosting the population in the dam.

Activities such as canoeing, sailing, picnics and swimming are common at Bethungra Dam and hopefully fishing will soon become more of a focal point after this project takes effect.

The scourge of redfin is a problem at Bethungra Dam. It is suspected that the previously stocked fingerlings in the dam have been predated upon by the redfin perch population. The installed habitat will provide critical refuge areas for native fish in the dam.

OzFish Unlimited’s Dubbo River Repair Bus team leader Sean Graham was thrilled with the way the project has turned out so far.

“Junee Shire Council approached OzFish because they were interested in stocking the lake with some native fish,” he said.

“They were concerned because the lake does have a pretty large population of redfin, which is an exotic pest species. They’re afraid that all of their small fingerlings were going to get gobbled up.

“We suggested that we go in and try to organise the mapping and re-snagging , which will provide a lot of cover for the native fish.

“So we got a little grant to be able to help us do this and they matched our funding and this is a real good collaboration between Junee Shire Council and OzFish.

“What we like to do is try to leave the world better than you found it, try to plant trees and rebuild the habitat for native fish and fishers.”

Junee Shire Council environmental officer Mason Schembri hopes to see local anglers as well as tourists from near and far trying their luck at the dam.

“Council is really looking forward to seeing more people fishing out here. It gets widely used by a lot of people,” he said.

“Really just to get people outdoors and using the area. It’s a fantastic place.”

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