Freshwater Guardian - Freshwater fishing news from the Department of Fisheries, Western Australia
Issue No. 5, September 2015

Our native freshwater fish...suite as!

A pygmy perth

As you pull out rods and waders and head to the south-west for the trout season, spare a thought for our native freshwater fish.

Our little suite of freshwater fishes in south-west waters includes 11 native species, nine of which are endemic. Some are so tiny that if you blink you could miss them, but they are vital to the health of our aquatic ecosystems.

A group of endemic, perch-like fishes with slender bodies and no longer than a credit card are the pygmy perches: the western pygmy perch (Edelia vittata) pictured above, the rarer Balston’s pygmy perch (Nannatherina balstoni) and the recently discovered and possibly rarest little pygmy perch (Nannoperca pygmaea sp. nov). The solitary nightfish (Bostockia porosa), also a member of this family, resembles a shrunken Murray cod with a preference for the night life!

Next up are the galaxiids (family Galaxiidae), commonly known as minnows and jollytails. The south-west is home to the endemic western minnow (Galaxias occidentalis), mud minnow (Galaxiella munda) and black stripe minnow (Galaxiella nigrostriata). While the latter two are no bigger than your pinky finger, the western minnow appears Goliath in proportion, reaching a maximum of 19 cm. The common jollytail (Galaxias maculatus) and trout minnow (Galaxias truttaceus) also call the south-west home, although they occur elsewhere.

Shaped like the galaxiids but unique in appearance and lifecycle is the salamanderfish (Lepidogalaxias salamandroides), which spends the dry months sleeping in damp burrows awaiting the rain. 

Last but not least is Big Daddy Tandanus, more commonly known as the freshwater cobbler (Tandanus bostocki) – the largest freshwater fish in the south-west. Growing over 50 cm long, it protects itself with an array of venomous spines on its dorsal and pectoral fins.

So spare a thought for these unique WA fish that are just surviving in a changing world.

A Buddhist trout release

Buddhists release rainbow trout at Harvey Dam

In July, we joined members of the Australia Oriental Media Buddhist Charity for the first time to release 500 rainbow trout into Harvey Dam in an environmentally safe and biosecure manner.

As part of the important Buddhist religious practice of animal release (thought to reduce suffering), a ceremony is performed that liberates captive animals into the wild. This centuries-old practice has been carried out on both a small and large scale, involving different types of animals, such as birds and fish. However, this can cause environmental problems if non-native or diseased species are released.

As trout are released into Harvey Dam as part of our annual stocking program, this enabled the Buddhist community to carry out their religious practice without introducing a pest species. The event was a success, with about 30 Buddhists taking part in the ceremony.

The growing relationship between members of the Buddhist group and us promises more opportunities to release trout together where they will not cause environmental degradation.

Recreational angler input makes better fishing

Adult rainbow trout

The Pemberton Freshwater Research Centre (PRFC) breeds ‘em tough.

Rainbow and brown trout have been bred by the PFRC for over 40 years, to stock dams and rivers in south-west WA. These trout have developed a higher level of heat tolerance than those found in cooler countries such as Canada and England, so fishing opportunities for keen recreational trout anglers have also evolved.

Trout fishers are represented by the devout anglers in the Freshwater Fisheries Reference Group, some of whom have been involved with the fishery since it began. Twice yearly, the group meets to discuss trout stocking locations for the coming season. Revenue collected from freshwater angling licences goes directly to the trout stocking program.

Deciding where trout should be released is based on water levels and the success of previous years’ stocking, centred on fishing experiences. Trout stocking is also governed by a management plan; river systems and dams in the south-west are divided into categories to establish environmental protection while allowing sustainable recreational stocking.

The PFRC continues to improve breeding techniques, striving to increase the number of viable eggs that grow to fry and yearlings. We are lucky to have some of the world’s top experts, ensuring long-term viability of trout breeding, stocking and angling in the south-west.

Tony Church has left the PFRC

Tony Church with trout he has bred

The end of September sees one of our highly respected and long-standing colleagues, the manager of the Pemberton Freshwater Research Centre (PFRC), Mr Anthony Church, hang up his waders.

Tony joined the then Department of Fisheries and Fauna in 1973 as a temporary technical assistant at the Pemberton Trout Hatchery. In 1985, Tony began his new (and continuing) role as hatchery manager.

The responsibility for the mass production of breeding and rearing fish is demanding. It requires constant monitoring, high levels of expertise, discipline and a lot of patience. Maintenance of such a large research facility means working in icy cold water, biting winds, and extremely wet and cold conditions, which calls for resilience and strength only a countryman has.

In January 2003, Tony received congratulatory acknowledgement for the excellent effort he put into expanding and developing the PFRC. Tony’s commitment to the hatchery over his many years with us has helped make it the largest successful freshwater hatchery and research facility in WA.

“Tony is a quiet achiever and we rarely see publicity about his work at PFRC,” says Dr Craig Lawrence, who has worked with him for many years.

“Tony reliably produces 500,000-700,000 fish every year. Having bred and stocked over 21 million fish in his time with us, he has supported sustainable fishing for thousands of anglers throughout the south-west. It’s a truly impressive achievement from a very modest man.”

On behalf of our staff and everyone in the freshwater fishing industry, we thank Tony and wish him health and happy trails in his retirement!

Image credits: Western pygmy perch by Dr Peter Unmack.