Tag Archives: fish

Unpredictable water levels


This sign is located near Rayners Corner beside Glenora Road on route to Bushy Park.

Years ago a friend and I drove up along the Lyell Highway, and then took a track down to the river somewhere between New Norfolk and Gretna.

We walked across a gravel bed to a rocky scrubby clump edging the water.  For a couple of hours we sat on the river side with our feet swinging above the glossy glassy black racing water of the Derwent River, lulled by the sun. I remember the clear reflections of the dense vegetation on the other side of the river. It was a joy to see fish rising to grab an insect that had been flitting near the water surface. Clouds began to pile up in the distance and around that time I looked down and realised the water was nearly touching my feet. The river’s water level was rising. We clambered back to the other side of this outcrop and discovered, to our horror, a swirling and dramatic pour of water separated us from the river bank. In recent blog postings I have mentioned the speed with which the Derwent River travels towards the sea. That day was my first experience of its dangerous fast moving flows.

The river was rising as we watched. We were stranded on an island and we didn’t know how much water had been released upstream. This meant we didn’t know whether the island would become submerged. Within seconds we knew we had to try our luck and get back to land.

Quickly we cast our eyes around for a couple of suitable branches that could act as walking sticks, as balancing poles, so we could cross the raging torrent.  Each of us started the crossing with a balancing stick. I remember stepping into that cold water and finding how uneven the ground was. It was not a simple gravel bed rather I was trying to walk on irregular sized rocks that rolled when I was pushed onto them by the force of the water. I remember that it was important to tread slowly and to lean my body at an angle towards upstream to counteract the pressure to send me downstream.

When I started the crossing the water level was at the top of my thighs. The distance wasn’t far but the water reached around my waist and splashed higher as I approached the safety of the river bank.  Once out of the water, we felt exhilarated.  But we both knew the danger we had been in.  And similar signs to the one in the photograph above were not around.  Situations like this remind me of the powerful importance of local knowledge.

Limited access roads, and limited direct access to the river from the land: Stage 14 of my walk along the Derwent River

A few times during my Stage 14 walk I noticed a sign ‘Limited Access Road’ and sometimes another sign indicating the Roads and Jetties Act 1935. This was true, for example, in the Sorell Creek area as I walked to New Norfolk. I wondered if this was Tasmanian state legislation affecting land ownership to the edge of the Derwent River.  Blog followers will have read my annoyance at not being able to walk along the exact river edge from time to time, because private property occupies the space and this is often gated and fenced. On my return home from the Stage 14 walk, I delved deeply into various pieces of legislation and other sites. This is what I discovered.

At http://www.ifs.tas.gov.au/publications/river-access-angler-rights-and-responsibilities, I learned that angler rights and responsibilities were as follows: “All anglers have an important role in maintaining good relations between landowners and the angling community. Firstly, anglers should understand that access is a privilege not a right, and secondly, when in doubt, ask permission. In Tasmania, most private land titles extend to the bank of the river and some titles extend to the middle of the river. This can mean that you may be trespassing, which is a criminal offence, even if you are wading in the river.

Rivers also flow through public land such as Crown Reserves, State Forests, National Parks, Hydro property and Conservation Areas. Whilst public access is usually permitted, different entry conditions may apply depending on the management authority.

The Inland Fisheries Service has been working to develop access to angling waters with a focus on improving foot access to major river fisheries. Much of this has involved negotiating with landowners and establishing formal agreements regarding access for anglers. Access points are now clearly marked with signs at the access locations on seven major river fisheries around the State.

Apart from registered private fisheries, Tasmania’s fishery is public property – the fish are not the property of the landowner. However, the land that surrounds public water is subject to title and the rights of the landowner to control access to the river or lake is at their discretion. Anglers must ensure that they are on public land or that they have sought the permission of the landowner to access the river or lake they wish to fish.

The majority of lakes in Tasmania exist on Hydro Tasmania or reserve land (Crown, National Parks etc) and public access is generally permitted across the land to the lakes and around the lake shores. Hydro does control access to areas where there is infrastructure or there are safety issues with public access. These areas are generally signposted with appropriate warnings.

Rivers generally traverse a number of different land tenures along their length, which may be a combination of reserves and private land. Land title generally extends to the edge of the river, and occasionally to the middle of the river. Land tenure can be searched on the LIST Tasmanian Property Database (www.thelist.tas.gov.au). Another useful tool is the Tasmanian 1:25000 map series, available from Service Tasmania. These show river reserves where they exist and anglers are permitted to access these areas provided they do not have to cross private property to reach them. The most important principle is ‘Access is a privilege not a right – when in doubt ask permission’.”

Stiles across fences have been installed for anglers and I saw a few of these during Stage 14 of my walk along the Derwent River.  These usefully provide access to sections but do not allow a continuous uninterrupted walk along the river’s edge.

 Stile jpeg

An 2007 article on the site http://www.exploroz.com/Forum/Topic/45914/Public_access_to_waterways_on_private_land.aspx

confirms this situation is similar across Australia, and it debunks some myths.

How does this get changed to allow easy public access to the river in Tasmania?  The permission must come from a State government minister under the Crowns Act 1976 (http://www.thelaw.tas.gov.au/tocview/index.w3p;cond=;doc_id=28%2B%2B1976%2BGS74%40EN%2B20131211000000;histon=;prompt=;rec=;term=). Clause 57 states: “Reservation of land abutting on streams. Where, in the opinion of the Minister, it is desirable to reserve Crown land –

(a) abutting on any permanent river, stream, or lake; or

(b) that is contiguous to the sea or an estuary –

he shall reserve, from any sale of that Crown land, land to the extent of at least 15 metres in width on each bank of the river, stream, lake, or the high-water mark of the sea or estuary.” I cannot imagine any government minister taking ‘rights’ away from current owners, so the chances of my lobbying successfully for a clear walking path next to the Derwent River are probably zero and zilch.

By the way, the interpretation clauses of the Roads and Jetties Act 1935 includes: a “country road means a road not being or forming portion of a State highway or subsidiary road, but does not include a street in any town”. I was reminded of an earlier post which tried to determine how a ‘back road’ might be defined.

Fish dying in the Derwent River

In early March Tasmania’s Inland Fisheries Service received a report of dead fish in the Derwent River between upstream New Norfolk and the area downstream near the industrial mill Norska Skog. For further reading refer to http://www.ifs.tas.gov.au/news/river-derwent-fish-kill-restricted-to-barracouta.  The thinking was that “The most likely cause is that barracouta have followed the salt wedge with the high tide in the river and killed by their sudden entrapment in freshwater.”

One of this week’s news stories reported on monitoring the unexpected numbers of fish dying in groups. The story can be read at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-27/more-monitors-on-river-derwent-as-fish-kills-continue/6354950. In an earlier article http://www.themercury.com.au/news/tasmania/experts-examine-mass-fish-kill-in-upper-derwent-estuary/story-fnj4f7k1-1227256722478, the thinking was that “Water quality in the lower saline layer is typically poor in summer.

Quite separately another story was running and I can find no-one publically connecting the two: “Fish kills could occur if the large algal bloom in the River Derwent near the Murphys Flat wetlands grows.”  For further information read http://themercury-au.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx.

I expect to be walking past Murphy’s Flat in the next day or so and I hope not to smell dying fish or see the silvery scales of dead fish littering the River’s edges.