The Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group is a local community group, aiming to provide a long-term sustainable fishing option on Lake Kununurra for locals and visitors to the East Kimberley. Check out the history of Lake Kununurra in our timeline below.
Lake Kununurra FormedLake Kununurra was formed through the building of the Kununurra Diversion Dam (KDD). This cut the migratory pathways for catadromous fish, such as barramundi, moving from the Ord River estuary system upstream into much of the freshwater environment of the river. However due to the design nature of the dam’s water release points, the downstream flow of fish was less inhibited. As a result, trapped populations of those impacted fish either moved downstream for breeding purposes or lived out their lives in the dam and slowly died off. The result was the gradual loss of some fish species to the upper regions of the river. In 1972, the Ord Dam was constructed about 55km upstream of the KDD, forming what is now known as Lake Argyle.
Commercial Barramundi Enterprise
The 90s, and potentially slightly earlier, saw the establishment of a commercial barramundi enterprise at Lake Argyle. This commercial venture included a number of ‘grow out cages’ on the lake. There were occasions when fish escaped from the cages due to net damage or harvest incidents. In the mid-90s professional fishermen catching silver cobbler on Lake Argyle started to find those barramundi escapees, catching them in their nets as the fish moved around the lake.
Regional Recreational Fishing Advisory Committees
Regional Recreational Fishing Advisory Committees were created in WA to provide advice to State Government on various recreational fishing issues. In 1993, the East Kimberley Recreation Fishing Advisory Committee (EKRFAC) was formed when the Kimberley group was split between east and west. From the onset, the EKRFAC started to advocate for finding a means to re-establish migratory pathways on the Ord River to allow fish to regain access above the two dams to the full length of the river.
Barramundi Bag Limit
Barramundi slot bag limit introduced to the Lower Ord River
Lake Kununurra Fish Stock Enhancement Group Created
EKRFAC renews its intention to pursue the issue of re-establishing migratory pathways to allow the restocking of Lake Kununurra with barramundi. The following year, the Committee invited stakeholders to form a working group called the Lake Kununurra Fish Stock Enhancement Group (LKFSEG). The member organisations were:
- Shire Wyndham-East Kimberley;
- Ord Land and Water; and,
- Fisheries WA.
The LKFSEG gave itself three objectives to determine the feasibility of the concept:
- A report on the economic impacts of a successful recreational barramundi fishery in Lake Kununurra.
- A report to identify the ecological and social issues concerning the establishment of that fishery.
- If the first two reports were positive in their recommendations, investigate options for the development of an engineering strategy to allow barramundi to become resident in Lake Kununurra in numbers that would sustain a successful fishery.
Lake Kununurra Barramundi Fishery Economic Benefit Study
The Lake Kununurra Barramundi Fishery Economic Benefit Study was completed. It reported that provided Lake Kununurra could be successfully stocked with barramundi the expected benefits could be:
- Between 1,760 and 3,696 extra visitors to Kununurra per year;
- Direct economic benefits of between $2.1 million and $2.8 million annually;
- An extra 13 jobs for every $1 million of tourism expenditure; and,
- Indirect economic benefits of between $3.1 million and $5.6 million.
Ecological and Social Issues Report
The report on the Ecological and Social Issues Concerning the Establishment of a Recreational Barramundi Fishery in Lake Kununurra was released. The summarised findings were:
- Competition for food and habitat between barramundi and resident species would be minimal;
- Impact on resident fish from barramundi predation would be minimal;
- Little data available on effective ways to move barramundi up fish ladders;
- A fish ladder could be used by other species;
- Saltwater crocodile management would need to be able to exclude them from entering Lake Kununurra; and,
- Fish would move downstream to breed.
Positive and negative social impacts included:
- Guarded support for the concept overall;
- Concerns over the viability of the project (could it work?):
- No proponent identified to take the project past this point;
- Access, development and management issues on the lake;
- Genetic miss breeding if fingerlings were used;
- Loss of the current wilderness values the lake holds; and,
- Will the fish stay in the lake?
Commercial Fishery Closes
The commercial barramundi fishery on Lake Argyle closes due to marketing issues. In the process of harvesting the remaining fish, a large number of barra inadvertently escape captivity into Lake Argyle.
An interagency meeting was held between representatives from the following organisations:
- Department of Fisheries;
- Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley,
- Water Corporation;
- Recfishwest; and,
- Kimberley Development Commission.
The meeting resolved the following as its key findings:
- The principle issue is the development/enhancement of a recreational barramundi in Lake Kununurra;
- A fish way option holds the most promise. Experts with extensive experience in fishways should be consulted to gather further insight and advice on options; and,
- A successful project will be as much about the management of people as the fishery itself. Issues that need to be addressed will include: possible changes to bag and size limits; fishing permits and other funding options; consideration of wilderness values and competing resource users.
The meeting proposed the following steps in order to progress the project:
- Feasibility study on migratory corridors/fish-ways, must address the crocodile issue;
- Promote the concept to facilitate community stewardship;
- Develop detailed operational plan; and,
- Secure political support and capital works funding.
Biologist Report Released
Fisheries Biologist, with Queensland Department of Primary Industries Fisheries, visits Kununurra to carry out investigation and provides a report on his findings in September 2004. The summary:
- Establish a program for facilitating the restoration of fish passage in the Ord River;
- Analyse hydrological data regarding head and tail water operational ranges;
- Compile data on migratory fish and crustacean species of the Ord River in regards to known biology and migratory requirements;
- Host the Fourth Australian Workshop on fishways in Kununurra;
- Establish a technical advisory group to assist in achieving the most effective fish way designs;
- Call and award tenders for the design and construction of the fishways.
Australian Technical Workshop held in Kununurra
The Fourth Australian Technical Workshop was held in Kununurra.
Its recommendations included:
- It was agreed that restoring fish passage along the length of the Ord River was a desirable and achievable goal, with benefits to the ecological, economic, social and cultural values of the East Kimberley.
- Government should plan for funding of major works through a budget allocation for capital works within the next five years.
- There is an urgent need for biological studies to further our understanding of fish populations (species, sizes, movements in response to flows) around the Kununurra Diversion Dam to optimise the design and function of the fish passage.
- It is recommended that such a facility be incorporated in the design to attract tourists and increase public awareness of the benefits of the fishway.
- Given community concern about estuarine crocodiles passing into Lake Kununurra, the fishway will be designed to exclude them.
- To initiate this process, State Government is asked to fund a project leader to carry this project through from its feasibility to completion.
Ord River Project Study
The fish assemblages of the Ord River project was undertaken. The study was specifically designed to gauge the effect of migratory barriers on fish of the Ord River, to investigate fish passage requirements and solutions and found:
- Provided the unique flow conditions and requirements of the fish fauna of the Ord River is given full consideration there is no reason why fish passage cannot be successfully restored; and,
- The impact of the restoration of fish passage on fish assemblages in Lake Kununurra is difficult to predict but it is unlikely that there will be any negative impacts.
Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley and the Miriwung Gajerong Aboriginal Corporation are successful in securing funding for Design Options and Costing and Cultural Fishing Values, through the Commonwealth Recreational Fishing Community Grants Program.
Priority for Fishway Project
The Shire of Wyndam-East Kimberley writes to the State Government, advising the fishway project is a priority for the East Kimberley region. The correspondence urged the State Government to commit funds for the capital infrastructure.
Breeding Program Starts
KTI travels from Broome to Kununurra and with local recreational anglers begins broodstock collection in Parry Creek and Ord River resulting in a number of small male fish being transported back to Broome to await the female fish. Another attempt at gaining further broodstock was undertaken in May 2011 where more male fish were collected but no female fish.
Pilot Study Accepted
A proposal is put to the Kimberley Development Commission to collect bloodstock and stock a small number of barra into the lake, as a pilot study – it is accepted in April, 2010. A month later, the Western Australian Fish Foundation was awarded the contract to collect broodstock and provide fingerlings through Kimberley Training Institute (KTI) for a pilot study.
Big Barramundi Caught
The then-leader of the WA National Party, Brendan Grylls, fished Lake Argyle with a local angler and caught two 1m-plus barramundi, while dropping a third specimen at the boat.
Despite the small number of commercial escapees in Lake Argyle, this demonstrated fish would remain in the lake due to abundance of prey to support a recreational fishery.
$700,000 For Restocking Lake Kununurra
Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy provides just under $700,000 for restocking Lake Kununurra, with Kimberley Training Institute winning the contract.
Barramundi Genetic Report
Barramundi Genetic Audit (Dec 2013, Final Report) undertaken across northern Australia demonstrates Ord River and Cambridge Gulf barramundi stock are essentially the same cohort. This information was crucial with regards to stock collection.
Giant Barra Caught
Residue fish in Lake Argyle caught by anglers are regularly measuring more than 1.2m.
Another 200,000 barramundi fingerlings are released into as part of the Lake Kununurra Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Program.
Data was recorded by volunteers showing catch effort per trip and fishing hours. The number of fish and fish lengths were recorded to give a further indication of growth rates. See graph below.
Stock Enhancement Committee Reactivated
Lake Kununurra Fish Stock Enhancement Committee is reactivated, becoming the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group.
Economics Benefits Study Released
A new economic benefits study is released by the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group, indicating the fishery could have a conservative economic value of $9.16 million to $9.81 million annually if the restocking program continues.
Don Punch joins the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group
Fisheries Minister Don Punch joins the Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group, Recfishwest, North Regional TAFE – Broome and members of the East Kimberley fishing community at a fish stocking event where the one millionth barramundi is released into Lake Kununurra.
Work continues towards stocking more barramundi into Lake Kununurra thanks to $975,000 funding through the State Government’s recfishing COVID recovery package, announced in August 2020. This package was developed by the State Government in conjunction with Recfishwest.