River flow is crucial in the life cycle of a suite of estuarine and marine species important in commercial recreational and Indigenous fisheries in northern Australia, including highly valuable commercial species and iconic recreational and Indigenous target species – banana prawns, barramundi, mud crabs, threadfin salmon and grunter.
Interannual and seasonal cycles of flood flows and low-flow sustain both the integrity of species lifecycles and the integrity of habitats on which they depend. Iconic species, such as sawfish, as well as supra-littoral and coastal habitats, such as salt flats, also depend on river flows. These species and habitats have conservation and cultural value in addition to economic significance.
Though, water flowing from the northern rivers supports substantial economic and social value, more broadly water is a valuable commodity in other sectors. Irrigated agriculture and water development infrastructure have policy and budgetary commitments within substantive government initiatives to develop northern Australia.
This is exemplified by the recent report, “Our North, our future: White paper on developing Northern Australia” 2015). White papers, green papers, water plans and various policy outputs by State, Territory and Federal governments, as well as private industry comprise a large suite of plans for water use across northern Australia.
It is difficult to develop an appreciation of the extent of these plans, or to readily access detail, as there appears to be no single listing, or collation that summarises features. The current NPF high priority Research Area is “Develop an understanding of ecological and economic tradeoffs of the impact of existing and proposed water resource development in Northern Australia”. As a first step in addressing this priority, this desktop research will collate and review information on the water developments likely to be of interest to northern Australia’s fisheries, principally the Northern Prawn Fishery.