Endangered Southern Pygmy Perch are on the move at Coppabella Creek

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Australia’s small-bodied native freshwater fish populations have dramatically decreased in recent years, with many populations and some species facing extinction. Small-bodied native fish are threatened by habitat loss, particularly loss of aquatic vegetation and changes in hydrology, as well as predation by introduced species such as Carp, Redfin Perch and Eastern Gambusia.

A focus species, Southern pygmy perch, is a small fish that grows up to 8 cm long. It was once common throughout southern NSW but is now only found in three locations in NSW:  tributaries of the upper Billabong Creek near Holbrook Blakney Creek near Borrowa and Coppabella Creek near Jingellic. Coppabella Creek is also home to the endangered Booroolong frog.

Following catastrophic flooding in 2010 and subsequent years, the Southern Pygmy Perch in Coppabella Creek declined to a few individuals due to changes to the geomorphology and habitat of the stream.

Murray Local Land Services along with NSW DPI Fisheries, Office and Environment and Heritage, Forestry and Landholders are working together to reduce threats to key habitat areas. This includes controlling blackberries and willows, which often shade out the creek system, making it difficult for aquatic plants, essential for the southern pygmy perch’s survival, to grow. Willows are also controlled in this system to reduce the tree root ball mass in rocky crevices that are used by the threatened Booroolong frog. Other activities include fencing off the creek and providing alternate water points to reduce sediment and nutrient loads in to the creek and riparian revegetation to reduce erosion.

Project Partners: Luke Pearce (Fisheries), Steve Thompson (Murray LLS), Dave Hunter (Office of Environment and Heritage), Acacia Bourne (PF Olsen Australia), Tara Pitman (Murray LLS) (Photo: Glenn Daley)

Recent fish monitoring at Coppabella Creek found Endangered southern pygmy perch further upstream than ever before, suggesting that rehabilitation of the site has provided suitable habitat conditions for the fish.

One of the project team, Luke Pearce, from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, said the find was a great outcome for the southern pygmy perch population in Coppabella Creek. Not only have the fish been found further upstream than ever before, their population is the highest that has been recorded since they were almost wiped out during the devastating floods in 2010.

“Their distribution has increased upstream by approximately 4 km, and the fact that juvenile fish were recorded suggests that they are breeding,” he said.

Dallas Goldspink, from forestry management firm PF Olsen Australia, said they were happy to be on board with the project to assist with weed control and other rehabilitation processes.

“We are excited to hear that southern pygmy perch have moved into some of the rehabilitated sites managed by PF Olsen Australia,” he said.

Murray Local Land Services project manager, Tara Pitman, said funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme, Catchment Action NSW and Environmental Trust Saving our Species projects had supported the works to date but relies on the support and involvement from Forestry and landholders.

Significant improvement in regeneration of aquatic plants at Coppabella Creek after removal of willows (Picture: Luke Pearce)

Significant improvement in regeneration of aquatic plants at Coppabella Creek after removal of willows (Picture: Luke Pearce)

Additional Work 
In addition to works at Coppabella and Spring Creek (Holbrook), a refuge population of Southern Pygmy Perch in Waring Gardens Lagoon in Deniliquin is being regularly monitored. There are indications the population is not breeding successfully, however further work is required to determine the viability of the population.

Murray LLS are also undertaking a feasibility study to re-instate an in-stream barrier at Coppabella Creek that was washed away during the 2010 floods. A contractor has been engaged, and in consultation with land holders, options and locations for the in-stream barrier are being considered.

The Small-Bodied Native Fish project is funded by Catchment Action NSW and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme.

Partners / stakeholders:

For more information, please contact:

Tara Pitman
Land Services Officer
Phone (02) 6051 2250

Further information:
Finterest – bringing back native fish

NSW Department of Primary Industries  – primefact – Southern Pygmy Perch

MDBA Fish Factsheet: Southern Pygmy Perch

Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme

Our address

Coppabella Creek, Holbrook and Deniliquin
-35.7123862, 147.725725

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