Four years on endangered Murray hardyhead are doing exceptionally well at NSW release site

Murray hardyhead is an endangered native fish that now persists in less than 15 subpopulations patchily distributed across its former range across the southern Murray-Darling Basin. The species experienced major population declines during the Millennium Drought when many sites deteriorated and became disconnected. Nick, Sylvia, and the rest of NGT’s Aquasave team have been involved in conservation of the species for many years, including carrying out releases into Lake Albert and other lower Murray sites in South Australia in 2016. More than half of the known subpopulations are a direct result of such releases, indicating that well-planned conservation translocations are critical to the species. In a way, such translocations recreate natural dispersal and colonisation that once occurred when the species was more broadly distributed across the landscape.

Sylvia sampling Murray hardyhead at the Beyond Wetlands backup location (left); heathy Murray hardyhead ready for release (right).

Since late 2018, we have been involved in collaborative attempts to reestablish Murray hardyhead in New South Wales, where it formerly occurred but had not been seen for more than 20 years. Fish from the initial release of that year persisted and numbers were boosted by a second release of fish in 2021. The reintroduction site is private land owned by the Hazel Henry Family Trust which actively manages the site with support from NSW Department of Primary Industries – Fisheries (and a number of other NSW agencies) and the Murray-Darling Wetlands Working Group. Importantly, the site receives environmental water from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office and the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board has assisted with the provision of the source fish.

Fast forward to early 2022: colleagues at NSW DPI Fisheries sampled the NSW reintroduction site and caught most the most Murray hardyhead ever sampled – over 200,000 fish! This staggering outcome clearly emphasises the way forward for the species – identify and appropriately manage existing and new sites and undertake reintroductions.

Effective management of the site will continue to be necessary to ensure the subpopulation persists over time. The hunt is now on to find more new sites that could receive fish. We hope to see more Murray hardyhead back out in the wild soon!

NSW DPI colleague Iain Ellis releasing fish into the NSW site (left); and Murray hardyhead from the site (right).

Nick Whiterod