Fish in the shallows of NSW south coast estuaries: variability and diversity of fish communities and the development of biological indicators for sustainability and biodiversity

Project Number:



University of Wollongong (UOW)

Principal Investigator:

Ron J. West

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:





Major structural changes are occurring in several natural resource industries as the principles of Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD), Biodiversity Conservation and National Competition Policy are implemented. These principles are beginning to have a significant and fundamental impact on natural resource management, at all levels of Government and in several primary industry areas, such as forestry, agriculture and the water industry. The forestry industry, which bears closest parallels with the fishing industry, has been in the forefront of these policy changes. In NSW forests: implementation of Biodiversity Conservation principles has led to the reservation of areas traditionally harvested by industry; implementation of ESD principles has led to the need to prepare forestry management plans, incorporating indicators of sustainability; and, National Competition Policies have led to the imminent corporatisation of the NSW forestry management agency and restriction of its activities to commercial harvesting (as opposed to other forestry management activities which will be carried out by other departments and local community management groups). A major problem in reforming NSW forestry has been the lack of useful forestry data relating to biodiversity and overall sustainability (eg. faunal components of forests). This resulted from management agencies not giving priority to collecting data on biodiversity and has led to somewhat arbitrary decision making and eventual confrontation. A parallel situation now exists in fisheries where, in general, very little data has been collected on diversity of fish communities in the vast majority of areas that are presently being fished. In NSW, estuary management is the responsibility of many players, such as Catchment Management Committees, River Trusts, the Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC), National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), as well as NSW Fisheries. For example: the majority of estuary restoration projects in NSW are carried out by Local Councils and Catchment Committees; DLWC is implementing "State of the Catchment" reporting; and, "new" players, such as DLWC and NPWS, are beginning to impose "external" constraints on fishing activities, with the objective of conserving biodiversity. Yet very little data exist on variability and diversity of estuarine fish communities in NSW. While a number of agencies and groups have a role to play in estuary management, none are likely to fund a major fisheries project at this stage. This proposed project is a large-scale fisheries research project, relating directly to fisheries and the health of fish communities. Every opportunity to involve other external collaborators in this project will be explored, however only small-scale funding is likely to be achieved, leading to a fragmented approach to this important collection of data. For example, the applicant has already been successful in obtaining $5,000 from the Illawarra Catchment Management Committee (ICMC) with a $10,000 extension of the project from FishCare, but none of the sampling sites chosen by the ICMC are in areas fished extensively. During the course of the project, the applicant will be in contact with all the relevant agencies, such as NSW Fisheries, NSW Dept. Land and WaterConservation, NSW National Parks and Wildlife, Local Councils and catchment groups, to ensure full consultation takes place and that maximum collaboration is obtained. The information to be collected during the course of this proposed FRDC project is likely to be used widely in various management plans and reports prepared by both community groups and Government, including: * fisheries management plans, * estuary management plans, * catchment management plans, and, * state of the environment reporting. The inclusion of fisheries information in these reporting mechanisms would: raise the profile of fisheries issues; encourage such data to become an established part of the estuary health indicators; and, in so doing, help in future funding of on-going "monitoring" programs, based on this research project. All of the above reports will be vital to the future of the fishing industry in NSW. The NSW Fishing Industry Research Advisory Committee (NSW FIRAC) has acknowledged the importance of the type of data collected from this proposed project and, as a result, considered it to be amongst their highest priorities for FRDC funding. This project will provide data on shallow water fish communities in a wide range of estuaries throughout southern NSW and will examine the usefulness of these data as indicators of sustainability and biodiversity. Data on these shallow water fish communities are comparatively easy to collect, but offer several advantages over other possible sampling methods (see Appendix 2). The collection of environmental data at each of the sampling sites will also provide useful information in itself, as well as important data for the interpretation of changes in the shallow water fish populations.


1. To examine variability in the diversity and abundance of fishes within and between selected estuaries, coastal lakes and lagoons in southern NSW, including fished and non-fished areas.

2. To provide the first set of comparative data for the south coast region of NSW on the recruitment intensity for a large selection of economically important estuarine fish species.

3. To investigate the usefulness of these data as indicators of biodiversity and sustainability, and possible inclusion as performance indicators in management of estuaries.

4. To provide a comprehensive set of environmental data relating to each sampling location, including water quality and habitat quality parameters.

Final Report - 1997/204 - Fish in the shallows of NSW south coast estuaries: variability and diversity of fish communities and the development of biological indicators for sustainability and biodiversity

Final Report
Author(s):Ron West
Date Published:March 2001

Principal Investigator: R.J. West and M.V. Jones

Key Words: