Standard Talk (15 mins) Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022

No time to lose, throwing caution slightly to the wind if we wish to conserve freshwater fishes (#172)

Peter Unmack 1
  1. Centre for Applied Water Science, University of Canberra, Bruce, ACT, Australia

It seems clear to me that many of our freshwater fishes in southeastern Australia are essentially stuffed in the near future.  In my lifetime I’ve seen a steady decline in populations of small native fishes.  In some cases, creeks no longer have water in them consistently, others have lost their fishes during bad times, but none have been able to recolonise when conditions improved.  The 2019 drought, fires and floods had a huge impact on fish populations.  Some river basins lost their entire population of fish species due primarily to the 2019 events.  For example, Gwydir River lost its Darling Hardyhead, along with the probable loss of its Mountain Galaxias and River Blackfish and possibly Purple Spotted Gudgeon is gone.  Many additional populations of species like Purple Spotted Gudgeon were lost across their range in NSW, with creeks completely drying up for the first recorded time. It is not clear if water will simply return to these systems that will provide a suitable habitat for future restoration of some of these creeks post drought.  We desperately need to take hands-on action now, which begins with becoming less averse to risk assessments in conservation actions.  If we only talk about problems and do not take action, or only make limited changes, then these populations are essentially doomed.  Currently, many species appear to exist based on good fortune rather than active conservation management.  We need to be more open to considering mixing of genetic stocks, putting fishes into novel places, trying new approaches, and reducing red tape, etc.  Some inspiring positive examples exist (e.g., Tri-state alliance).  Although there are risks in taking swift and strong action, these risks are quite low relative to the likelihood these species will still exist in 50 years.