Sunday, 5 April 2020
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Rescue operation to save rare fish from The Head creek

A rare fish, native to creeks around The Head, could have died out in the drought and recent bushfires if it wasn’t for an emergency evacuation.

The colony of a unique form of the ancient River Blackfish species is only found in the upper Condamine River upstream of Killarney.

Ecologists from the Department of Environment and Science moved the colony along with two other significant species, mountain galaxias and spiny crayfish, from Spring Creek due to a drying up of waterholes. The River Blackfish cannot survive in water temperatures above 28 degrees.

The fish and crays were taken to an aquaculture facility where they will remain until conditions improve in the sections of the creek that had stopped flowing.

The rescue plan was devised by the department, James Cook University and a company called Jardini.

With emergency funds from the Murray Darling Basin Authority, the ecologists caught 50 blackfish, 150 mountain galaxias and 50 crayfish during a two-day hunt earlier this month.

Australian Rivers Institute scientist, Doctor Stephen Balcombe, said a viable population of each of the species remained in the creek.

“We’ve been pretty selective with the fish we’ve taken. We purposely left behind the big breeders and took out the little ones that are most vulnerable to high temperatures,” Dr Balcombe said.

“We hope the source population left behind will replenish the system next year when we get rain again, but if not, we now have the captive fish we can use to restock.

“Because the system has dried up so considerably, there is a lot of habitat that is just sitting dry now and the fish are being squeezed into a few remnant pools.”

Despite the recent rainfall, Spring Creek was in a much worse situation than hoped.

Minister for Science, Leeanne Enoch, said the ecologists found very few fish in an area where they once thrived.

“This proves how important this rescue mission was for the survival of these important and rare native species,” Ms Enoch said.

“The fish and crabs were transported to a specialised refrigerated aquaculture facility where they will be kept as an ‘ark’ or ‘insurance’ population until the natural conditions improve.”

The River Blackfish - a unique form of the species found in the upper reaches of the Condamine River from Killarney to The Head has been rescued from possible extinction. Photo: Australian Museum.