Breeding rare and endangered endemic fish species

The southwest region of Australia is recognised by Conservation International as one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots and by WWF as one of the Earth’s 53 most biologically outstanding freshwater habitats. The southwest rivers and streams in Australia are one of 28 freshwater habitats identified by WWF as a Global Ecoregion that is considered to have a conservation status of critical or endangered. However, in Western Australia populations of many freshwater species are fragmented and some have been listed as critically endangered or vulnerable to extinction.

To conserve aquatic biodiversity in the southwest rivers of Western Australia, the Department of Fisheries in collaboration with The University of Western Australia established a Captive Breeding Program for rare and critically endangered aquatic species in 2002.

This program operates from the two major freshwater research facilities in the state; the Department of Fisheries Pemberton Freshwater Research Centre, which is the state government’s large scale field station, including an endangered species “Ark” and hatchery; and The University of Western Australia’s Aquaculture & Native Fish Breeding Laboratory in Shenton Park, which is the largest recirculating aquaculture system in Australia, where UWA staff and students work alongside Department of Fisheries researchers to undertake complex and technically challenging fish breeding research.

At these facilities there is a multi-disciplinary team with expertise in aquaculture, genetics and natural resource management and work closely with wild fisheries scientists, managers and community groups.

The focus of their research program is to prevent the extinction of endemic freshwater species has been on developing broodstock collection, genetic fingerprinting, husbandry practices and breeding protocols that enable large-scale production of these species for restocking waterbodies.

The approach has been to develop husbandry, spawning and rearing protocols using closely related species that are not critically endangered. This strategy enables production protocols to be developed efficiently, without needing to remove large numbers of critically endangered animals from the wild. Using this strategy, large-scale production of critically endangered species can be achieved to produce juveniles for restocking.