Following decades of habitat degradation, significant progress has recently been made in the science underpinning fishery habitat repair. Recent legislation has highlighted the importance of ecological restoration via key initiatives (e.g. NSW Marine Estate Management Act, Coastal Management Act and Biodiversity Offset reforms). This has resulted in funds for works becoming more readily available [e.g. recreational fishing grants; natural infrastructure grants]. There is an immediate need to maximise return on available investment while it is a Government priority – to ensure that repair works are cost-effective, achieve their objectives, and maximise benefits to all the community, recreational and commercial fisheries and biodiversity.
NESP II research in the Clarence River estuary has demonstrated the substantial economic returns to prawn catches from repairing intertidal habitats. Increases to School Prawn productivity associated with a scenario reinstating tidal connectivity with 27 ha of saltmarsh channels may contribute to AUD141,100 in economic benefits per year (Taylor and Creighton 2018). This foundational research demonstrated the benefits to prawns as an indicator of all ecological benefits including other target species.
An integrated whole-of-estuary case study which prioritises repair on net benefit to the estuary to ensure high ecological and economic cost-benefit for all commercial species has not been completed. This project is the first phase of such a study and is located in the Clarence, the largest NSW estuary with the largest commercial inshore fishery. Lake Wooloweyah is an ideal location due to the high community interest, the multiple opportunities for enhancing productivity and with multiple benefit streams across biodiversity, flood management, agriculture, fisheries and overall community benefit. The results from this study will have relevance to all of Australia's developed coastal assets, especially SW Western Australia, the Lower Murray, the major waterways and lakes of Victoria, the NSW coastline and the Qld coast.