Here at Finterest, our work revolves around the recovery of our precious native fish, which are an invaluable cultural, ecological, social, and environmental resource. We do it because it’s important, and because we love it. And if you’re reading this, you probably love it too.
At the Native Fish Forum in Dubbo this year, I had the pleasure of meeting some of my idols in fish recovery, including small-bodied fish champion Peter Rose. Pete presented on a variety of projects within the Mid-Murray Floodplain, outlining the key elements required for native fish conservation and recovery.
The commonly utilised steps for fish recovery include:
- Protecting existing populations
- Collecting broodstock
- Intensive captive breeding programs to secure species
- Reintroduction of offspring into secure, predator free ‘surrogate sites’ (farm dams, urban wetlands, etc.)
- Translocation into managed wild sites
- Dispersal into wild sites
In this form, these actions seem straight forward, possibly even obvious to some. However, this list fails to acknowledge one vital element of fish recovery — people working together.
This crucial step was clear in Pete’s presentation, with partnerships highlighted as being a fundamental part in the incredible story of the Southern Purple Spotted Gudgeon (SPSG) AKA the Zombie fish. When I began working on Finterest, Pete’s work on the SPSG captivated me, and the plight of our small-bodied fish captured my heart. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, highlighting Pete’s message that at the core of fish recovery, people and partnerships are key.
Partnerships required at site and system scales
The tale of the SPSG is not rare for small-bodied fish. There are 5 others who desperately need support including:
- Murray hardyhead
- Olive perchlet
- Flat-headed galaxias
- Yarra pygmy perch
- Southern pygmy perch
These six-specialist flood-plain species form a group known as the Magnificent 6. The recovery efforts for the Magnificent 6 in the Murray corridor are enabled through the Tri-State Alliance, which acknowledges that, “Water alone will not restore water dependent ecosystems and ensure the various obligations and community expectations are achieved. Appropriate ongoing complementary and coordinated activities, supported by local communities, are required at the site and system scale.”
Building community legacy through collaboration (and music!)
Another incredibly inspiring community recovery effort is taking place in the Upper Condamine. I had the pleasure of chatting with Ren Holz from the Upper Condamine Recovery Reach after her presentation. She spoke about the projects taking place to restore cold water species such as Lamington spiny crayfish, Mountain galaxias and River black fish.
The Killarney Fish Rescue Project was a highlight from the Recovery Reach. The project was set up in response to low flows and siltation impeding on vital Northern river blackfish habitat. This species, also known as River blackfish or Nikki long cod, is threatened and declining due to several habitat threats. There has been at least one known localised extinction of a blackfish population in the Condamine’s headwaters since 2014.
Experts warn that River blackfish is an indicator species, acting as a ‘canary in the Condamine’ for other native fish.
To save the species, relocation to historically known sites was conducted by the Department of Environment and Science in partnership with TropWATER. They were able to collect blackfish and build an ‘insurance’ population to combat against future localised extinctions. Habitat restoration was also undertaken, restoring riparian zones and having cross-benefits for all native species.
Ren notes that one of the greatest achievements of the project is the start of a new community legacy. The partnerships created during the project will last well beyond its completion date. The level of community involvement is impressive, with students from Killarney State School being engaged to write and produce a music video aimed at highlighting the plight of a tiny native fish at risk of localised extinction.
Collaboration, communication and communities are crucial elements of native fish recovery that empower and connect, resulting in real action for fish. Over the course of the Forum this was extremely evident. Watching people share their passion, stories and knowledge about native fish was truly inspiring.
Featured image: Native Fish Forum 2023.
Source: Chris Walsh.