The Spotted Handfish, endemic to the Derwent River estuary in Hobart, is critically endangered. A project is underway to conserve this unique species and save it from further decline.
Handfish: hard to spot, easy to disturb
Handfish are a group of coastal anglerfish with a narrow distribution in South East Australia. There are 14 species, with seven endemic to Tasmania and the Bass Strait. Spotted Handfish once extending up Tasmania’s east coast and were considered a common fish.
The decline of Spotted Handfish may have started as by-catch from historic near-shore dredge fisheries for scallops. In more recent times, coastal infrastructures such as swing mooring for yachts destroys their preferred complex habitats and spawning substrates.
Spotted Handfish are the first marine fish to be listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list.
20 years of monitoring and conservation
CSIRO and research partners, have a long history of monitoring Tasmania’s Spotted Handfish population.
Since the 1996 IUCN listing a collaborative research program has been ongoing between CSIRO, the University of Tasmania, the State and Federal governments and the Derwent Estuary Program to conserve fish.
Surveys have established that local populations exist at nine small sites in the Derwent Estuary, and in 2015 an additional local-population was also discovered in the D’entrecasteaux channel.
In 2017 a project commenced to collect an ‘ambassador population’ from the Derwent in order to create a captive breeding population. This breeding population will be placed in Seahorse World Tasmania and at the SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium. The project is made possible through a partnership between the aquaria, CSIRO and the National Environmental Science Programme’s Marine Biodiversity Hub, the Zoo and Aquarium Association, and the University of Tasmania.
Reversing the trend through captive breeding
The Spotted Handfish captive breeding program has commenced, and has already yielded successful fish captures and re-homing of female and male specimens into CSIRO Hobart’s holding tanks.
Watch the video below for the latest progress on the project: