Academic journal article Environment and History

Salmonid Acclimatisation in Colonial Victoria: Improvement, Restoration and Recreation 1858-1909

Academic journal article Environment and History

Salmonid Acclimatisation in Colonial Victoria: Improvement, Restoration and Recreation 1858-1909

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Aquaculture and salmonid acclimatisation in Victoria drew upon and adapted European and American precedents to reflect local circumstances and priorities. Multiple attempts were made to acclimatise various species of European and American salmonids in Victoria throughout the nineteenth century. The Acclimatisation Society of Victoria assembled a salmonid acclimatisation network that combined transnational aquaculture expertise with local commercial imperatives, a desire to restore damaged fisheries and a unique local acclimatisation theory. This network was subsequently used and transformed by regional fish acclimatisation societies and private individuals. The network finally collapsed with the professionalisation of the Victorian fisheries in the 1880s and the establishment of the Fisheries and Game department in 1909. Exploring the rise and fall of this network demonstrates and analyses the operation of transnational acclimatisation knowledge and practices.

KEYWORDS

Acclimatisation, Victoria, salmon, trout

INTRODUCTION

In September 1863 a remarkable article was published in the Yeoman and Australian Acclimatiser newspaper. It began:

What a dreary land would this be to good old Izaak Walton! The race of
anglers is in great danger of dying out in these colonies from sheer
want of occupation. In the very best of times--the pastoral period of
our history, before Mammon turned every river and creek into sludge
channels--fish were anything but plentiful and the varieties were of a
limited description (1)

The article proposed to solve this sad state of affairs through aquaculture--the artificial breeding, distribution and harvesting of fish. Specifically, it argued for continued experiments with salmon acclimatisation in spite of the fact that three previous attempts to transport salmon ova to Tasmania and Victoria had failed. Drawing from the expertise of British aquaculture experts, Francis Buckland and Thomas and Edmund Ashworth, the article argued that salmon aquaculture would be profitable, referring to valuable fish as 'gold nuggets' and declaring that it was 'cheaper and easier to breed salmon than lambs'. (2) It concluded that rivers in Victoria should be farmed and not allowed to remain barren.

One year later the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria (hereafter referred to as the Acclimatisation Society) created a committee to assess the financial value of native fish, concluding that native fish were commercially valuable and in decline. A second committee consisting of prominent local scientists and fishermen was convened to organise their fish acclimatisation programme which concluded that 'the salmon is the most desirable of the fishes', but that it should also 'procure the ova of the following fishes, trout, salmon trout, especially also the grayling, perch and char'. (3) All of these fish, bar the English perch, are members of the salmonid family and were held to be climatically and anatomically suitable for acclimatisation in Victoria. The Acclimatisation Society, its successors, the regional fish acclimatisation societies, and wealthy private individuals, spent decades attempting to acclimatise all of these species with varying levels of success. (4)

The recommendations of these committees, and the arguments in the Yeoman and Acclimatiser article, show in microcosm how salmonid acclimatisation was simultaneously embedded in the particularities of colonial Victorian politics and science while being linked to broader transnational and Australasian acclimatisation, aquaculture and conservation networks. They demonstrate, and this article argues in detail, that salmonid acclimatisation in Victoria was motivated by perceived deficiencies in Australian fish distribution, the desire to restore damaged fisheries using European and American aquaculture to 'farm the waters', local theoretical conceptualisations of acclimatisation and supposed taxonomic relationships between local and exotic fish species. …

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