Fishway brings back the fish in the Upper Orara River

A new rock-ramp fishway inserted in the Orara River near Coffs Harbour has improved access for native fish including the recreationally important Australian bass and endangered Eastern Freshwater Cod to over 60 kilometres of upstream habitat, Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said today. 

"In a collaborative effort between the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Coffs Harbour City Council, Orara Valley RiverCare, Northern River Catchment Management Authority (CMA), and Streamline River Restoration; fish migration has been improved by the new rock-ramp fishway at Skewes Crossing," Minister Macdonald said.

Funding for the project was provided by the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust and the Northern Rivers CMA through the "Bringing Back the Fish" program. Additional funding was also provided by Coffs Harbour City Council and the NSW Recreational Fishing Trust which was granted through the Orara Valley RiverCare Group. 

"For decades, Skewes Crossing blocked the access of migrating fish to upstream habitat in the Orara River due to the excessive fall on the downstream side of the causeway," Minister Macdonald said.

"Unlike trout and salmon, native fish such as Australian bass can struggle to jump over even small barriers," he said.

"Rather than requiring fish to make a single massive leap, rock-ramp fishways attempt to mimic natural stream conditions by providing a series of pools that allow fish to gradually swim up and over the old barrier. 

NSW DPI Conservation Manager Dr Matthew Gordos said  native fish rely on a variety of habitat types to complete their life cycle and need to migrate along rivers and streams and between estuaries. 

"More than two-thirds of coastal fish species including Australian bass and freshwater mullet are known to undertake large-scale migrations associated with breeding and feeding," he said. 

Dr Gordos said due to the large amount of quality habitat upstream of the causeway and the presence of the endangered Eastern Freshwater Cod, the crossing was considered a high priority barrier for improving fish passage. 

"Moreover, due to past erosion of the river bed below the site resulting from historic gravel extraction, the rock-ramp fishway will act to stabilise the river bed and banks, thereby protecting the upstream habitat," he said.

"NSW DPI and the Northern Rivers CMA have made a commitment to address priority barriers such as weirs, road crossings, and floodgates by incorporating fish-friendly designs that help promote the upstream migration of our native fishing stocks."

Note: Before and after pictures available on request.

Further reading


Endangered species - eastern freshwater cod