Cultural Knowledge, Fishos Map Lost Fish in Basin

OzFish Unlimited

On Wiradjuri County, OzFish is working with traditional owners, Wiradjuri Cultural and Environmental Rangers, and Boys to the Bush, a local Indigenous youth program, to return a fish long forgotten by most.

By restoring the critical habitats in the last remaining refuges for the Olive Perchlet, together our culturally diverse knowledge is ensuring the success of restocking this important threatened fish species. Although still common in lowland billabongs of the Upper Murray Darling Basin in Queensland, the Olive Perchlet has disappeared from similar habitats in NSW and is considered a threatened species.

Glorious billabongs once dotted the wide floodplains across the many rivers of the Murray Darling Basin. Many were deep enough to withstand droughts, and most grew magnificent lawns of aquatic vegetation—crucial habitat for the tiny fish that once formed for a key part of the Basin river's food web, from birds and snakes to Murray cod and indigenous Australians.

The billabongs were vital backwaters supporting fish populations, providing food and shelter for thousands of small fish and the young of larger species. Now these wetlands and their aquatic plants are largely gone or disconnected from the main river channel.

Peter White, founder of the Wiradjuri Cultural and Environmental Ranger Group, remembers when things were better.

"When I was younger there was always small fish at the billabongs out there," he said. "I haven't seen any for years and years and years. When we were kids, we had water snails and all, and we don't see them anymore. We should be protecting those areas to see them come back."

Peter is passionate about riparian restoration and spends a good deal of his spare time planting river red gums on the riverbank near Forbes, NSW. He is a member of Central West NSW Landcare and has recently become president of the Forbes Chapter of OzFish.

"It's a no brainer," Peter said. "The more people who get involved and bring all that knowledge and get it into this arena, to get together and work on it, the better. We can bring it back."

Significant aquatic habitat degradation has occurred since European settlement and continues today, with over 30% of Australian freshwater fish threatened with extinction. The situation is even worse for the Murray Darling Basin, where 56% of the fish fauna are threatened.

Chad Parkes, Dubbo area director for the Boys to the Bush program, also appreciates the importance of restoration works for fish and other aquatic wildlife.

"The collaboration between Boys to the Bush and OzFish exemplifies the power of community partnerships in fostering both environmental stewardship and personal growth among young people," Mr. Parkes said.

"By working together, we are nurturing the next generation of environmental custodians and fostering a deeper appreciation for the importance of maintaining our waterways."

By working closely alongside Indigenous Australians and fostering such relationships, OzFish utilises traditional and modern knowledge, in turn applying it firsthand to our scientific monitoring, as well as planning for restoration works.

To date, OzFish and traditional owner partners have built 20 "habitat rafts" that will be installed into four significant wetlands. The habitat rafts mimic those that would have formed at a time when there was a lot more riparian trees to ensure consistent branch-fall into the wetlands.

They consist of lengths of large bamboo forming a floating scaffolding a submerged wooden platform planted with native aquatic plants. The rafts are being built and placed by the Boys to the Bush indigenous youth program, using large natural rocks, which will also create complex submerged habitats.

"I love making the plant rafts, it's something that I enjoy," Beau L., a Boys to the Bush program participant, said. "I love working with my hands and helping improve our local environment."

"Sean makes it fun and teaches us what we need to do," Beau said. "Then we have a go."

"The partnership between Boys to the Bush and OzFish stands as a testament to the positive impact that collaborative efforts can have on young individuals and the environment." Mr. Parkes said.

Most recently, six participants and their mentors produced eight new rafts in about three hours, under the direction of Sean Graham, OzFish Dubbo River Repair Bus Team Leader.

"This hands-on approach not only equips the participants with practical skills," Mr Parkes said, "but also installs a sense of responsibility and pride in the contributions to preserving our natural surroundings."

Aquatic plants and rocky structures are critical habitat for native small-bodied fish species and are unfortunately now lost from wetlands which would otherwise be suitable drought-proof refuges for small bodied threatened fish species. Causing of the decline of several small bodied threatened fish species, including the Olive Perchlet.

OzFish is delivering this project with thanks to the partnership of Landcare NSW and the One Basin Cooperative Research Centre. The restoration will fulfil several high priority criteria under the Priorities Action Statement listed under the NSW DPI Fisheries guidelines for Olive Perchlet, including community and stakeholder liaison, awareness, and education; habitat rehabilitation; pest eradication and control; research/monitoring; as well as stocking/translocation.

If you would like to get involved in projects like this one, work closely with traditional owners, and in restoring habitat for threatened species, join OzFish as a member via, we have several Chapter locations across the Murray Darling Basin.

This project is in collaboration with Boys to the Bush program in Dubbo and the Wiradjuri Cultural and Environmental Rangers in Forbes with funding from the Driving Fish Habitat Action in partnership with Landcare NSW, Australian Government through the CRC Program, Murray-Darling Basin Authority Native Fish Recovery Strategy

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