A small species of fish once caught in a bucket in Queensland’s Upper Condamine is on the brink of extinction.
- The species is considered a “canary in the coal mine”, according to an expert
- Locals remember watching the fish cascade above the waterfalls in drinking water
- Now, they say, Killarney’s streams are so hot and muddy you can’t even swim in them
Scientists fear that the North River blackfish – more commonly known as the nicky fish or long nicky cod – could be the signal for an environmental collapse in the Murray-Darling Basin river system.
The species, already very vulnerable to localized extinctions, is in serious decline.
Over the next two years, Southern Queensland Landscapes will attempt to reduce sediment and increase natural habitat in waterways where fish still live, notably in Killarney, upstream of the Condamine River in South Queensland. .
Griffith University researcher Mishca Turshwell hopes more people will learn more about the species as efforts to save it intensify.
“She’s an interesting little creature and, I think, definitely underrated and undervalued,” he said.
Sweet and hearty
No one really knows how many are left, but scientists at Southern Queensland Landscapes are convinced the species is in severe decline due to habitat destruction and declining water quality.
Killarney resident Bernice Petersen, a centenarian, remembers her grandmother who caught the North River blackfish in large numbers.
“Often she would get about 20 a day,” she said.
“My grandma used to walk from Killarney to the kiosk to fish, but she caught a lot of nickies and crayfish and we used to swing our lines next to hers because she caught them all.
“They used to share them if they had too much, the fish was sweet to eat.
An unhealthy system
The stream system is no longer suitable for swimming near Killarney due to the amount of silt in the water, according to Ms Petersen’s son Neil.
“There was a waterfall when I was a kid and I remember going there once for a picnic and there were adults taking the fish,” he said.
“I could see them coming down over the waterfall.
“There were some good pools up there when we were kids, but you couldn’t swim in them now – it’s so full of silt and everything.”
Indigenous elder Sam Bonner said his people drank in the streams near Killarney decades ago.
“They didn’t take care of the water, but how could they when they cut down all the trees? he said.
“The water is muddy and hot.”
‘Canary in the coal mine’
Dr Turschwell is not sure the fish can be saved.
“The black fish has sort of been described as a canary in the coal mine,” he said.
“They’re non-migratory species, so that’s a good indicator, because they don’t have this ability to move around and potentially find better habitat.
Dr Turschwell says the upper reaches of the Condamine are essential for maintaining the presence of blackfish in Queensland, if not in the larger basin.