Photo credit: Tarmo A. Raadik

The nationally threatened freshwater fish – the Barred Galaxias – has been discovered at a new location in the Central Highlands by our scientists. 

It was found during surveys for threatened fish and crayfish conducted at 85 locations since July in the forests of eastern Victoria. It’s part of the Victorian Government’s Forest Protection Survey Program.

When the survey program locates threatened species in areas earmarked for timber harvesting, the habitat is protected. 

The Barred Galaxias, one of 12 species of threatened galaxiids surveyed, is a small, scaleless fish found in central Victoria on the Murray River side of the Great Dividing Range.

The once widespread species now only exist in around 12 small and isolated populations in streams and creeks in the south-east corner of the Goulbourn River system. The introduced species - Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout - have decimated populations, and drought, bushfires and climate change, have seen numbers dwindle further. 

Tarmo Raadik, a Senior Fish Ecologist at the Arthur Rylah Institute (DELWP), found the   Barred Galaxias at the new location. He said it’s important we protect streams where we find these threatened fish. “Because the galaxiid doesn’t migrate and lives it’s whole life in the place it was born, the impact of local activities which disturb soil, like timber harvesting, can be devastating for the fish population,” he said. “It can lead to soil and rock washing into the waterways during heavy rainfall, blanketing the stream bed, killing the fish’s food or smothering the fish themselves.” 

The surveys are usually conducted by two people who usually hike into the target location, which are often some distance from roads in remote areas. They use a technique called electrofishing to sample lengths of stream, then identify, measure and weigh any fish or crayfish caught. They also measure water quality, photograph the location and record its location. Then, the fish are returned to the water unharmed. 

“On our hike in or out, we sometimes find evidence that can help us get a better understanding of the area’s biodiversity, such as freshwater mussel shells or burrowing crayfish soil cones” said Dr Raadik. “At one spot, where there’d been recent rain, we found land snails crawling on fallen logs, which was a new biodiversity record for the area. Even if we don’t find the animals we’re looking for, the unexpected finds, and general aquatic fauna sampling results, are still valuable in documenting biodiversity and its current condition.” 

When priority species, like a new population of Barred Galaxias or crayfish, are found, VicForests is notified as soon as possible. It must then follow the Code of Practice for Timber Harvesting to protect threatened species. The prescription to protect this species includes stream side buffers up to one kilometre upstream of the location and of varying widths depending on where you are in the landscape. Stream crossings upstream are also required to be minimised to avoid disturbance to the water. 

Other surveys, similar to the Forest Survey Protection Program are also conducted by community groups, VicForests and as part of our other programs, such as the Biodiversity Response Plan.

Page last updated: 27/06/19

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