New study to investigate fish movement in Vasse-Wonnerup

February 12, 2014

Researchers from Murdoch University are embarking on an 18-month study to better understand the movement patterns of Black Bream and Sea Mullet in the Vasse-Wonnerup Estuary.

An aerial view of the Vasse-Wonnerup Estuary.

Dr Stephen Beatty from Murdoch’s Freshwater Fish Group and Fish Health Unit said the research team will fit acoustic tags to fish, with signals to be picked up by an array of listening stations set up in the area.

“These two species are the largest fish in the estuary. They’re an important part of the ecosystem and are also sought-after by recreational fishers,” he said.

Dr Beatty said the study was timely, following the recent deaths of hundreds of fish on both sides of the Vasse and Wonnerup floodgates. The Department of Water and Department of Fisheries are currently investigating the deaths, though high levels of toxic algae had been recorded in the area.

“Unfortunately, these two species have been impacted by recent fish kill events in the Vasse-Wonnerup,” he said.

“A particular focus of the study will be to find out how readily the fish pass through the floodgates and how they respond to environmental variables, such as rainfall events, fluctuating salinity and dissolved oxygen levels.”

The data will help scientists better understand how Black Bream and Sea Mullet use the estuary and will help them identify important habitats, such as spawning areas.

The results will also inform local management strategies aimed at reducing the frequency and severity of future fish kill events.

Dr Beatty said this project will complement previous Murdoch research which mapped the distribution of native and introduced fish species throughout the Estuary and its major rivers.

“Projects like these help to fill in the knowledge gaps, allowing local authorities and the community to work together to conserve these species and the environment they live in,” he said.

“The Estuary is such an important part of the community, so we’re really keen for Busselton residents to be involved in the tagging phase of this project,” he said.

Anyone who wishes to participate should contact Alicia Reagan from the Department of Fisheries on 9752 2152 or by emailing

This project is funded by the State Government through the State NRM Office with support from the Department of Water, the Department of Fisheries, GeoCatch, the City of Busselton, and the South West Catchments Council.

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