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Lan Pham is a Freshwater Fish Ranger from DOC’s Coastal Otago Area Office, she writes about an exciting new project to spread the love of New Zealand’s freshwater fish species.

A Lowland longjaw galaxiid swimming in a stream.

A Lowland longjaw galaxiid – classified as critically endangered

For many our native freshwater fish species are most commonly encountered is in a whitebait fritter, but in Otago a new project aims to change the way local communities experience and relate to our unique freshwater species.

The Otago region is a biodiversity ‘hot-spot’ for a fascinating group of galaxiids—native freshwater fish, which unlike their whitebait counterparts, do not migrate to sea. Instead, these non-migratory galaxiids live out their lives in the stream or river where they hatched. Often these few remaining populations have passed under the radar of their human neighbours. However, as freshwater resources are coming under increasing pressure, the need to raise the profile of these galaxiids is of utmost importance, meaning the time for action and getting to know our galaxiids before we lose them for good is now!

Kids watching two DOC rangers electric fishing for galaxiid.

Electric fishing for the infamous Clutha flathead galaxiid in Boundary Creek

‘Growing Otago’s Galaxiid’s’ is an initiative that has sprung out of Otago’s Growth and Engagement Strategy. It’s a fresh start that aims to get local communities, irrigation groups and foresty companies excited and engaged with their local species, and to facilitate what measures/activities/events they want to drive to help conserve their galaxiid species.

The project is in its first month and there has already been some exciting successes. Several schools have signed up to partner with local fish-friendly landowners who are keen to host restoration sites on their properties. We had a fun visit to the Conservation Award-winning Waitahuna School and met their local galaxiids at Boundary creek and are working with Kids Conservation Club and City Forests on an exciting team project involving our nationally endangered Eldon’s galaxiid.

A DOC ranger shows attendees the creatures living in Oamaru Creek.

Discovering what fascinating creatures live in Oamaru creek!

Only time will tell whether we are on to a winning start with spreading galaxiid love throughout Otago. But we will sure be doing our darnedest to try new things, involve communities at every step of the process and let them take the reigns and run with the projects themselves into the future.

Our big vision is that communities will drive their own galaxiid conservation projects, landowners and forestry companies will actively protect galaxiids on their land and local businesses will support their local galaxiids through sponsorship. Our hope is that the galaxiid love we are seeding during this project is something that will continue to grow within communities, far beyond what DOC alone could ever hope to achieve!

A Clutha flathead.

A Clutha flathead