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World Wetlands Day 2 February 2004

World Wetlands Day 2 February 2004 -

Spare A Thought For Threatened Mudfish

For 364 days of the year New Zealand’s half-dozen species of threatened native mudfish remain out of sight and largely out of mind. But, in celebrating World Wetlands Day on 2 February, the Department of Conservation hopes the secretive species will enjoy a little of the spotlight, figuratively at least.

As the first threatened fish species to benefit from a specialised management approach by DOC, mudfish now join the ranks of icon species like the kiwi, kakapo and tuatara in having their own recovery plan. DOC’s Recovery Group convenor, Rosemary Miller of Wanganui, says the plan focuses on securing protection for key mudfish sites.

“Wetlands are the habitat for mudfish and because our wetlands are diminishing, the fish have become threatened. The Canterbury and Northland mudfish are both ranked as nationally endangered, which means they need urgent and targeted conservation action to protect them. Implementing the recovery plan will, in many cases, involve working closely with local communities or individual landowners.”

Rosemary Miller says the term ‘mudfish’ is a little inaccurate, though the fish can survive for up to two months when wetlands dry out by burrowing into the mud and remaining motionless while awaiting autumn rains.

“While they are called mudfish, they don’t really like mud! The black mudfish species found mainly in Northland and the Waikato prefer wetlands on acidic, peaty soils that have clear water. Brown mudfish found in scattered sites around Taranaki, Wairarapa, Nelson and the West Coast are less fussy about the type of wetland they live in, while the Canterbury species are found mostly in overgrown seasonal streams. Where wetlands have been drained for pasture, mudfish can still sometimes be found in overgrown farm drains.” Rosemary Miller suggests a number of ways to keep wetland areas “mudfish-friendly”, including fencing stock out of wetlands, retaining some in-stream vegetation in farm drains, taking care not to introduce pest fish like gambusia (mosquito fish) and by maintaining water quality and quantity.

“It’s likely that most people visiting wetlands on World Wetlands Day will not actually get to see a mudfish, but if we can at least spare a thought for them and become more aware of their plight, that will be a great start towards their recovery as a vital part of our indigenous wetland biodiversity.”

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