Upstream struggle to get trout down under

A newly-caught brown trout. Photograph: Cultura/Rex
A newly-caught brown trout. Photograph: Cultura/Rex
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IT WAS a journey of 12,000 miles over vast oceans and round the treacherous Cape Horn with a single goal: to bring Scottish fly-fishing to the bottom of the world.

Tasmania will this month celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of brown trout from the River Tay to the southern hemisphere. On 21 April 1864 cases of brown trout ova were finally unloaded at New Norfolk in Tasmania from where they were carried by 50 men across mountainous countryside to a set of fishery ponds which had been modelled on the Stormontfield Ponds on the River Tay.

From the Salmon Ponds, as they are now known, in Plenty, just north of Hobart, the brown trout ova were eventually dispersed by men on horseback to rivers around Tasmania. In time trout ova would be dispersed from Tasmania to the rest of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the southern hemisphere.

“It’s an incredible story of personal sacrifice and dogged perseverance” said Suzie de Carteret, whose company, Tasmanian Odyssey, is organising trips from Scotland and the UK to Tasmania’s finest fishing spots, which are now said to be among the best in the world. “In the 19th century three different trips ended in disaster with the trout and salmon ova arriving either dead or destroyed, but they persevered until they found a solution.”

The first attempted trip to bring salmon and trout eggs from Britain to Australia and Tasmania departed on 6 February 1852 when 50,000 ova were shipped out on a vessel called The Columbus. The eggs were placed in a purpose-built tub containing 60,000 gallons of water and gravel. Every six hours during the four-month voyage a fresh supply of six gallons of water was added.

However on arrival the ova were dead. Eight years later a second trip was attempted with 30,000 salmon ova laid on gravel in swinging, irrigated, trays. The water came from 15 tons of ice, which unfortunately melted too quickly and 59 days into the voyage the ova were again lost.

Sir James Arndell Youl, who pioneered these trips, then travelled to Scotland in 1861 to study fish culture, but it was while visiting Paris that he learnt of a new method of sending ova on long journeys nestled in wet moss. However, a third attempt, this time funded by the Tasmanian government, also failed and Youl was castigated by the press for the waste of public funds, yet he refused to give up and a fourth attempt was made in January 1864.

Salmon ova were landed safely in Melbourne but the boxes of trout ova were held back by William Ramsbotton, the first superintendent of the Salmon Ponds, as he wished to keep them for use in Tasmania. When Ramsbotton returned home with the ova and finally removed the screws of the first box there was a gasp of dismay from the gathered crowd as the ova appeared to be dead. However when all 12 boxes were eventually unpacked they discovered that a few hundred trout ova were still alive.

The ova were then placed into the ponds and by 8 June, 1864, over 300 trout had successfully hatched. This year the 150th anniversary will be marked with a series of talks and fishing events around the country.

Yesterday Roger Butler, who is one of Tasmania’s top fishing guides, said: “Scotland has had a distinct influence on the successful introduction of wild brown trout to Tasmania in particular and the southern hemisphere in general. Back in the early 1860s the Salmon Ponds on the Plenty River in the Derwent Valley was inspired by and designed along the lines of the Stormontfield hatchery in Scotland. This was so successful, that it is still going as a tourism attraction with the original Huon pine hatching trays working as models at the ponds.”