Cracking the code on Macquarie perch

First described by European explorers in the upper Macquarie River near present day Bathurst, the Macquarie perch was one of south-eastern Australia’s most abundant freshwater native fish. Sadly, the Macquarie perch is now one of our most endangered. Macquarie perch, or “Maccas”, once thrived in the southern Murray Darling Basin, ranging from the Macquarie River in New South Wales through to the mountain streams of Victoria, and as far down the Murray River as Swan Hill.

In the local area Maccas, or “bream” as they were often referred to, were widespread along the length of the Goulburn River, and all of its tributaries. Alongside Murray cod, trout cod and catfish (and other native fish), Maccas abounded in the waters around Thornton, Alexandra, Molesworth and Seymour, pushing right up into the hills. For example, they were once known to be common in the Howqua River at least as far as the Sheepyard Flat area. They were a very popular target for local anglers, being highly prized for both sporting and table qualities.

The demise of Macquarie perch can be attributed to a long list of threatening processes, including habitat loss, gold mining, introduced fish such as redfin and man-made barriers to migration. This once plentiful fish is now reduced to a handful of fragmented populations across northern Victoria and south-eastern NSW in small pockets of suitable habitat with little hope of reconnecting with each other and terribly exposed to the ever-present threats of drought, bushfire and in-breeding: they need help!

For many years scientists and river managers have tried to re-establish Maccas across their natural range through a combination of habitat improvement, reducing threats, re-stocking with fingerlings and translocating adult fish between populations. There have been many wins along the way, however the critical factor for the long-term survival of Maccas is to finally resolve the reliable production of large numbers of fingerlings in captivity; despite the best efforts of fisheries scientists across Victoria and NSW, they remain stubbornly resistant to being reared in hatchery conditions: we need to ‘Crack the Code on Maccas’!

A collaborative new research project, ‘Cracking the Code on Macquarie Perch’, for the first time will bring together fisheries experts from across Australia and abroad to work jointly on a dedicated program to resolve the captive breeding of Maccas. This will enable the re-establishment of wild populations of Maccas and give existing remnant populations a much-needed boost in both numbers and genetics.

The $3.7million project, led by the Federal and Victorian Governments, features 12 partners across government, universities and community, including: Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA), Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), NSW Fisheries, North East and Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authorities, Arthur Rylah Institute, Deakin University, University of the Sunshine Coast, Monash University, and the Norwegian Institute of Aquaculture Research.

This dedicated research project will examine nutrition, hormones, the timing of breeding and other factors to understand how to consistently produce fingerlings for stocking – boosting the ongoing work to save the Macquarie perch from extinction. Once we can ‘Crack the Code’, we will be aiming to produce 500,000 to a million fingerlings every year at Snobs Creek hatchery for restocking, re-establishment of populations and recreational fisheries once again.

The support from recreational fishers for this project has also been overwhelming, with funding contributed to the project via the Victorian and NSW Recreational Fishing Licence Trusts (monies that are generated through fishing licence sales and then invested back into fish, and fishing). Whilst fishing for Macquarie perch in both states is strictly controlled, or in most waters totally prohibited, many anglers have grown up on the stories of the sporting qualities of Macquarie perch. Being able to bring them back from the brink so that future generations can enjoy this amazing fish will be a dream come true.

For more information on Cracking the Code for Macquarie Perch, go to Cracking the Code to watch a short film produced by the Victorian Fisheries Authority.

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