Southern Pygmy Perch fish (Murray-Darling lineage) were once common in the waterways of the Winton Wetlands, up till at least the 1960s. Sadly, they then departed – but now they’re back!
Other than two of these fish being found nearby in 2008, none have shown up in surveys at the former Lake Mokoan or Winton Wetlands since the 1960s.
The fish are listed as vulnerable under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Act and the Australian Government Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This small wetland specialist fish has been in severe decline due to altered water flows, habitat loss and degradation, and being eaten by introduced species including Redfin Perch.
At Winton Wetlands, the pygmy perch suffered a complete loss of habitat when the area was “drowned” for the construction of Lake Mokoan.
In recent years three States have been working together to improve the ecological health and ecological functioning of the river systems shared by New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, including associated wetland areas.
In 2018, a captive breeding program began under the auspices of this so-called ‘Tri-State Regional Alliance’, with key partners, Native Fish Australia, Australia New Guinea Fishes Association and Middle Creek Farm. The program has involved sites being established in Victoria to simulate ‘natural hatcheries’, able to provide an ongoing source of Pygmy Perch for re-stocking in areas where they are threatened or have disappeared, without impacting on surviving wild source populations elsewhere.
Winton Wetlands’ Committee of Management is partnering with two water catchment management bodies, the North Central Catchment Management Authority and the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, to re-stock this fish back to Winton Wetlands, under careful management, from January 2023.
The fish translocations are part of the Mid-Murray Floodplain Recovery Reach Program, funded through the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s Native Fish Recovery Strategy. The activity is consistent with the ecological renewal program in place at Winton Wetlands, which is taking a long-term approach to restoring and strengthening the ecology of the wetlands. The Southern Pygmy Perch, along with other fish including the Purple-Spotted Gudgeon (likely to follow later), all have a part to play in re-establishing a healthier local ecosystem.
The Pygmy Perch release will continue through 2023 and will be closely monitored to see how the re-introduced members of the species fare upon their return.
Our top photo shows the first day of the pygmy perch re-introduction process, on 5 January 2023 with CEO Sue Lebish releasing Southern Pygmy Perch into the waters at Winton Wetlands.
Welcome back little guys!