27 November 2020

A fishy tale that saved an endangered species

| Edwina Mason
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Bailey Piper and George Graham holding Macquarie perch fish beside river.

From left: Bailey Piper, 13, and George Graham, 12, from properties bordering Adjungbilly Creek, release Macquarie perch under the guidance of the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Photo: Supplied.

You wouldn’t know it but earlier this year as all of Southern NSW was staggering out of the ashes and smoke of bushfires, a fishing expedition of sorts was underway which possibly circumvented the loss of an endangered species.

And a warning: getting to the bottom of this fishy tale is as murky as the very creek they were rescued from.

Amid utter chaos during that post-bushfire time, someone with fish in their head and heart took the step of heading to Mannus Creek, just south of the heavily razed Tumbarumba region, to recover one of the few remaining populations of the endangered Macquarie perch.

The Macquarie perch from the Murray-Darling Basin are rather curious-looking creatures with very serious expressions belied by huge eyes (hence curious) and an elongated oval shape.

A medium-size fish, it can grow up to 46cm and weigh up to 3.5kg.

It is also known by its other common names of silvereye, white-eye, mountain perch, Murray perch, grunter, bream and black bream.

Once abundant in the upper and middle reaches of the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers, it could also be found north in the upper reaches of Hawkesbury-Nepean and east in the Shoalhaven river systems.

But, sadly, the vast conspiracy of habitat degradation, waterway construction, siltation, river regulation, overfishing, introduced viral disease, and the trifecta of competition, pollution and predation means its populations are now fragmented and small. So much so there is a national recovery plan for the species.

And then came fire.

One of the few remaining populations was hit hard after an intense bushfire passed through Mannus Creek in the NSW upper Murray catchment.

But the quick thinking of the NSW Department of Primary Industries meant a small number of fish were recovered and taken to the Narrandera Fisheries Centre to be cared for while the river system recovered. Others were retained as broodstock for a captive breeding program.

Just a few weeks ago, Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke announced the return of Macquarie perch to Adjungbilly Creek.

Adjungbilly is a community snuggled into the northwestern foothills of the Snowy Mountains. It is situated about 29km southeast of Gobarralong and 35km northeast of Tumut.

The big news was that 20 Macquarie perch were returned to the wild at Adjungbilly Creek.

Ms Cooke said the water near Gundagai had been chosen to home the rescued species as it provided the ideal environment for them to thrive.

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“Adjungbilly Creek is unique as it is one of only four remaining natural populations for Macquarie perch in NSW, and is the only population that remains below some of the major impoundments,” she said.

This is the first stage of recovery for the endangered species, and releasing them into Adjungbilly Creek will add genetic diversity to this population, which will make them more resilient in the long-term.

Ms Cooke said the Macquarie perch had been rescued from both Mannus Creek and Cataract Dam.

The Macquarie perch in Cataract Dam were translocated from the Murrumbidgee River around 1914 and their descendants are now, 106 years later, making a return to the catchment of their origin, she explained.

“The goal is to eventually be able to relocate genetically diverse fish back to Mannus Creek once it has recovered from the bushfire,” said Ms Cooke.

For the project – which is part of the NSW Government’s $10 million Fish Rescue Strategy – to succeed, landholder support was needed.

“It’s fantastic to see landholders getting involved in a project such as this that will have lasting impacts on the river for our local community and our native fish,” said Ms Cooke.

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