EDNA sampling uncovering threatened fish species at scale 

Over the past 12 months, OzFish Unlimited, Australia’s fishing conservation charity, has taken citizen science to the next level using advanced technology and its army of recreational fishing volunteers. 

With the support of the international charity Global Giving, volunteer anglers can identify fish and other species, even the rarest of fish species, through water samples that have undergone environmental DNA (eDNA) assessment.  

Until now, sampling fish has been a challenge. There have been only a few ways to determine what fish species are in a specific waterway, and most of those are either highly skilled tasks such as electrofishing or highly destructive, like netting. EDNA allows researchers to obtain DNA from a simple water sample.  

Fish and other aquatic life are constantly shedding scales and other cells containing their DNA in the water. The water sample is then analysed in a laboratory and the species can be identified, causing no impact to the environment or the fish. 

OzFish are widely using the eDNA sampling technology to identify fish and crayfish species across waterways throughout Queensland, NSW and Victoria which have been impacted by floods and bushfires.  

The early results have shown that OzFish are supporting habitat recovery for some extremely rare and threatened species. These include the Eastern Cod in the Nymboida River, one of only two rivers where a wild cod population still exists, Macquarie Perch in the Georges River where they were thought to be locally extinct, and Purple-Spotted Gudgeon in the upland Creeks around Tenterfield where we are discovering new local populations monthly. 

OzFish have also found some fish that they would never have realised they were supporting, such as rainbow fish in the coastal streams of Bundjalung National Park, Australian Smelt in the Nymboida River, and several other unique gudgeon species at all sites sampled.  

Cassie Price, OzFish’s Director of Habitat Programs said “eDNA sampling will help fishers understand the difference they are making to their local fish habitat”. 

“We are excited to see what some of the future sampling will hold at our sites, as we suspect we will see greater fish diversity and stronger abundance as a result of our habitat restoration works, and this data will provide that real-life evidence of the impact,” said Cassie.  

OzFish’s bushfire recovery projects have been funded by Global Giving, Landcare Australia and The Landcare Led Bushfire Recovery project which is supported by the Australian Government’s Bushfire Recovery Program for Wildlife and their Habitat. 

Global Giving is supporting OzFish to continue this exciting monitoring. If you are interested in OzFish activities or would like to learn how to collect eDNA samples from your local waterway, follow this LINK to discover more, join in on local face-to-face training, or get involved with OzFish by becoming a member!