ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Advancing fish-protection screening at Australian water diversions (2019-2022)


NSW DPI, $95,000


Associate Professor of Research Dr Lee Baumgartner, Joachim Bretzel (PhD student)

Research theme

Biodiversity Conservation


In the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), many millions of fish are extracted from rivers annually through pumps and gravity fed diversion canals. This is a huge concern for fisheries managers because, if unaddressed, it will continue to hamper the recovery of native fish populations that is being targeted by other river heath initiatives such as instream habitat rehabilitation, fishway construction and environmental flow delivery. As well as fish, other aquatic biotas such as invertebrates, fresh water turtles and platypus are also highly impacted by diversions.

Fish-protection screens can stop fish and debris entering pumps and diversions, and they are widely used overseas, where they save millions of native fish annually and improve water delivery efficiency. Although manufacturers are ready to construct fish-screens for the local market, there are no national guidelines on their design and installation to protect Australian species.

Furthermore, broad-scale uptake of screening will be hampered by the fact that NRM bodies and water users currently have low awareness of the international state-of-the-art in screening technologies and are requesting further local evidence of their performance.

The aim of this project is to undertake novel research to help promote uptake of the nation first fish screening program. Industry supported PhD student Joachim Bretzel, who will be based at the NSW DPI's Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, is part of a multi-disciplinary team of CSU and NSW DPI ecologists, engineers, economists and science workers working to develop Australia’s first fish-screening program by evaluating pilot projects in NSW, developing Australian screen design guidelines, building awareness and ensuring screening programs are underpinned by rigorous science.

Joachim will specifically be looking to identify the role of diversion on fish conservation, and which of the fish screens currently available in Australia are the most effective, both in terms of cost and impacts on fishes. He will study the impact of unscreened and screened diversion on Australian fish species during their different life stages, as well as on the fish communities, populations, and the whole river ecosystem. The study, expected to be conducted mostly in NSW, will involve a lot of field work and look at both screens for small irrigation pumps and for large water diversion take-offs.


The findings from this study are expected to:

  • determine the ecological consequences of diversion and screening on Australian fishes and other aquatic biotas
  • help refine existing fish screening design guidelines for Australia
  • help understand the extent of fish losses across the Murray-Darling Basin and the role of diversion for native fish conservation
  • inform the development of Australia's first fish-screening program


Dr Lee Baumgartner
Albury-Wodonga Campus


Joachim Bretzel


May 2020