The history of Uarah Fisheries

The history of Uarah Fisheries can be traced back at least 40,000 years to the indigenous Wiradjuri nation. The Wiradjuri nation was the largest Aboriginal nation in New South Wales, with settlements across most of today’s Riverina agricultural region. One of the largest centres included the area of wide grasslands and pristine waterways between the modern townships of Wagga Wagga and Narrandera, where Uarah Fisheries is located today.

The Wiradjuri people lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle centred on the Murray and Murrumbidgee river catchments. These river systems played a leading role in the lifestyle of the Wiradjuri people, acting as a source of food and a means of communication and trade. Murray cod was an especially crucial food source, vitally rich in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, while canoes made of bark were also used for travel along the rivers. Evidence of the Wiradjuri people’s use of canoes and reliance on the rivers can be seen from the scars still visible on many of the trees adjoining these rivers today.

Notably, the Murray cod also played a central role in the mythology of Wiradjuri culture, including in the creation story of the Murray River itself.

Many thousands of years later, the first European recorded to have come across this fertile region was the famous explorer, Captain Charles Sturt, in December 1829, having followed the Murrumbidgee River. The first recorded mention of a pastoral station in the area was of Narrandera Run, in 1848. The Narrendera post office was opened in 1861, and soon after, the neighbouring township of Narrandera was recognised in 1863.

Not long later, in 1869, the prominent Australian settler and architect, James Devlin, purchased the Ganmain and Deepwater Stations, and soon afterwards, Uarah Station – the modern-day site of Uarah Fisheries – on which properties he raised 220,000 Merino sheep. In 1878, his son, Arthur Albert Devlin, relocated his family to Uarah Station and became a renowned expert in Merino sheep in his own right. However, perhaps Arthur’s greatest legacy is his lasting contribution to the invention of the world’s first single-dose anthrax vaccine by Australian John Gunn in 1897.

In the late 1890’s, Uarah Station changed hands to Thomas Ryan – a direct relative of the infamous Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly. The Ryan family later renamed the property, “Uarah Run”, which was still the name of the property when it was purchased over eighty years later by Jim Malcolm in 1977.

Thus, at this storied location – in the traditional habitat of the iconic Murray cod, golden perch and silver perch species, in the heart of the historic Wiradjuri nation, and in the centre of the modern Riverina agricultural region – Uarah Fisheries was founded in 1977 by the pioneers of commercial large-scale native fish breeding and modern Murray cod aquaculture, Jim and Bruce Malcolm.

Then known as Uarah Warm Water Fish Hatchery, the fishery was established to produce fingerlings of Australian native fish species, including Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii), golden perch (Macquaria ambigua) and silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), for the restocking of native populations.

However, the founding of the hatchery itself was not a simple process. The application for a permit with Fisheries NSW (now merged into the NSW Department of Primary Industries) had taken two years, with much argument as to whether such a venture was feasible.

Undeterred, the Malcolm family successfully undertook to demonstrate its feasibility, thereby founding the Murray cod breeding industry and allowing other would-be Murray cod breeders to be granted permits as well.

In the late 1980’s, Uarah Fisheries commenced research into the feasibility of Murray cod as a farmed species. At the time, it was believed by the industry, government bodies and researchers alike that aquaculture of Murray cod was unfeasible for a multitude of perceived reasons, including their natural aggressiveness, propensity for cannibalisation and unwillingness to take non-living feed.

However, Uarah Fisheries, having been denied funding and assistance by Fisheries NSW, chose to independently engage in privately-funded and self-conducted research to demonstrate its feasibility. Within three years, Bruce was able to devise techniques for weaning of juvenile Murray cod to take a pelleted diet, and came to determine the optimal conditions for intensive aquaculture of Murray cod to minimise their natural aggressiveness.

Finally, in 1991, Uarah Fisheries produced the world’s first farmed Murray cod table fish. This was a world-leading achievement and the critical breakthrough for the foundation of the Murray cod aquaculture industry. After 50 years of absence, Murray cod was back on the menu of Australia’s premier restaurants.

During the 1980’s Uarah Fisheries grew to become Australia’s largest commercial hatchery for native fish while Bruce similarly became the leading expert of native fish husbandry from the private sector. We specialised in Murray cod, golden perch and silver perch fingerlings, which were supplied to government and community-organised restocking programs.

Beginning from the 1990’s, Australia began to see an increasing interest in the research of the freshwater fish of the Murray-Darling Basin – both to aid conservation efforts and also to investigate the various species’ potential for aquaculture. Thus, Uarah Fisheries became closely-involved in many of the leading studies ever conducted on Australian fish.

Since the 1980’s, Uarah Fisheries has worked with a number of government bodies, universities and multinational organisations in almost 40 academic studies and research programs.

Meanwhile, we have continued to improve our techniques and expand our working knowledge of native fish production. Likewise, we have continued to redesign, refine and specialise our infrastructure based on newfound knowledge and research. Even today, we strive to constantly expand our knowledge of native fish husbandry and incorporate new techniques into our practices.

In 2015, Uarah Fisheries began what we hope to be our third industry-defining contribution to Australian freshwater aquaculture. We commenced engagement in a joint venture for the Asia-Pacific market, initially centred on China. This partnership will bring the renowned eating qualities of Murray cod to the global market.

We will be working closely with local businesses and organisations to educate and build the consumer market for Murray cod in the Asia-Pacific, so as to secure a strong sales market for Australian freshwater fish abroad.

We believe this to be the logical next step for the Australian freshwater aquaculture industry – even more so since aquaculture is predicted to contribute 62 per cent towards global seafood consumption by 2030.

Even now, we remain as passionate as ever about Australian fish. Although we are already the longest-running freshwater aquaculture farm in Australia and the very first modern Murray cod farm in the world, we believe that we still have much to contribute. As such, we will strive to continue to break new ground for the aquaculture industry in Australia and abroad.