Barramundi responsible for spawning 250,000 barra fingerlings set to return to Lake Kununurra

Sam JonesThe Kimberley Echo
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland at the Lake Kununurra community barramundi release in 2021.
Camera IconRecfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland at the Lake Kununurra community barramundi release in 2021. Credit: Bethany Ironside

It’s a fantastic journey that reads like a Kimberley version of Finding Nemo — 12 barramundi, a round trip of more than 2000km, and a sex change for each of them.

This is the fishy tale of 12 barra caught in the East Kimberley Ord River in 2013 and 2019, placed in a specially adapted trailer and, over an epic 16-hour road journey, transported 1000km to North Regional TAFE’s aquaculture centre in Broome.

These fish are “broodstock”.

They have been kept and reared at the hatchery in Broome to contribute to the State Government-funded Lake Kununurra barramundi stocking program, which has seen 1.3 million barra pumped into the lake in the hope it will transform into a world-class fishing spot.

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On Friday morning, they made the 1000 km return-journey to be released into Lake Kununurra, where they will see out the rest of their years.

In their time at the hatchery the broodstock fish caught in 2013 have grown from between 40 and 65cm at two to three years old to more than a metre nine years later — as the fish are hermaphrodites, they also changed sex from male to female around five to six years old about the 90 cm mark.

North Regional TAFE senior aquaculture technician Milton Williams said he was excited to see the round trip completed, and the fish return home.

“Having seen them grow and do their bit spawning, it’s going to be so rewarding to see them swim off into the wild habitat,” he said.

The fish are fed on a diet of fresh “human-grade” seafood diet of mullet, whiting, prawns, squid and pilchards adding up to a hefty 3kg of the good stuff fed to the fish in the lead up spawning events.

Milton said the female fish have produced eggs consistently well over the past few years, whereas the males might have been suffering from a little ‘performance anxiety.’

“The females have spawned consistently well, given it’s not a commercial operation here and done on a budget using just three or four systems,” he said.

“It’s the males we have trouble with. They don’t always fire and we rarely all have them all in spawning condition at once — usually it’s about half of them. So, between these fish they have successfully contributed 214,000 barra fingerlings that have been transported and released in the lake.”

Once at the lakeside lake water will be slowly pumped through the tank to allow the fish to acclimatise and “osmoregulate” from the saline water they are kept in at the hatchery and in the transportation tanks to the freshwater environment of the lake, as well as adapting to temperature changes.

Recfishwest chief executive Dr Andrew Rowland said it was great to see the fish treated with the respect they deserve being released back into their natural habitat.

“Thanks to fish like this and the fantastic efforts of North Regional TAFE and the local Lake Kununurra Barramundi Stocking Group, and the support of the State Government, the lake has flourished into a special fishery in a special part of the world,” he said.

“Where else do you get the chance to catch metre-long barra in such a safe and accessible setting?”

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