A once common sight in wetlands across the southern Murray-Darling Basin, southern pygmy perch are facing dwindling numbers, but a new project is focused on boosting their population.
Endangered in NSW and South Australia, the numbers are rapidly declining in Victoria as a result of habitat destruction, altered water flows, disconnection of floodplain wetlands and the introduction of redfin, trout and carp since the 1970s.
North Central Catchment Management Authority project officer Peter Rose said while there were a few isolated populations left in the upper Campaspe and Avoca catchments, they were fragmented and highly inbred.
The North Central CMA, through its Native Fish Recovery Plan, is joining forces with the City of Greater Bendigo, Native Fish Australia and the Australian New Guinea Fish Association to genetically rescue the southern pygmy perch and help it thrive again.
‘‘We have collected fish from the remaining populations and set up a captive breeding program,’’ Mr Rose said.
‘‘We have found a specialist southern pygmy perch breeder who is currently breeding the fish and they will be ready for re-stocking into rehabilitated habitats by this time next year.
‘‘The ultimate aim of the project is to return the fish to creeks and wetlands around Bendigo, and the Gunbower Forest wetlands.’’
Southern pygmy perch was last recorded in Gunbower Forest in 1997, but it is thought the species has been extinct from Bendigo Creek since the 1860s gold rush.
City of Greater Bendigo natural reserves team leader Mark Toohey said the city planned to release the southern pygmy perch into the new ponds at the top of the Bendigo Creek catchment near Number 7 Reservoir.
‘‘It’s exciting because we are nearly there,’’ he said.
‘‘There are other fish such as the northern blackfish, galaxids and many others that could also be reintroduced, which would be really great for the ongoing health of our local waterways.’’