Water

Pygmy perch bounce back

By Country News

Scientists have avoided local extinction of an endangered native fish from creeks in the Strathbogie Ranges.

Low water levels and habitat loss saw populations of the tiny southern pygmy perch decline dramatically in the granite-creeks region since the 1980s.

Fish ecologist Scott Raymond said the rescue plan involved collecting 500 adult fish from the Castle, Hughes and Seven creeks and re-homing them in farm dams throughout north-east Victoria last year.

‘‘We returned 12 months later and collected 200 fish that we’ve now trans-located to areas the fish would have once existed,’’ Mr Raymond said.

The fish were released at a wetland on Tahbilk Winery Estate, outside Nagambie.

‘‘We’ve been really encouraged by how well the fish bred in the farm dams after they were moved and we’re hopeful of a similar outcome at Tahbilk,’’ he said.

Mr Raymond said the billabongs at the winery provided ideal habitat for the native fish.

‘‘The water level is stable and there is no stock access to the wetland, which makes it a perfect breeding ground for the southern pygmy perch.’’

He said river regulation, land clearing and introduced species such as carp had impacted on fish numbers and made survival in off-stream habitat more difficult.

Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority river health officer Christine Glassford said it was rewarding to see the small-bodied native fish returned to its natural habitat.

She said the dramatic drop in population had been caused mainly by predation and habitat loss.

‘‘The small and fragmented populations of the southern pygmy perch are susceptible to a range of threats including a lack of seasonal flooding and modification of natural flows, which reduce their capacity to recolonise to new habitats,’’ she said.

Ms Glassford said it was essential to reduce stock access to waterways.

‘‘Grazing has been a real problem because the fish breed and take shelter in streamside habitat.

‘‘The southern pygmy perch is a small creek and wetland specialist, which means we’ve really got to look after our off-stream habitats.’’