They are an exotic fish considered to be one of the worst pest species in Australia, and they are on the move.
Since January this year, the pest fish tilapia have been recorded in the Mackay Gooseponds as well as further south at locations in the lower Fitzroy near Rockhampton and to the west around Moranbah. Tilapia are a cichlid species native to eastern Africa.
Catchment Solutions aquatic ecologists recently headed south to conduct electrofishing and assist with eDNA surveys to determine just how far and fast tilapia are spreading.
Catchment Solutions ecologist Trent Power said the most effective way to slow the spread of tilapia was to get the public on board.
“The more eyes out there, the better—what we need is a community ‘tilapia watch’,” Mr Power said.
“If we can get the public to be aware of how to identify tilapia, to keep an eye out for them and to report sightings, then we have a much better chance of controlling the spread.”
Tilapia have been declared harmful to the environment, posing a particular threat to our native fish species.
“Tilapia are highly competitive fish and have the potential to displace native fish species, which is why it is important we have an accurate gauge of their movement,” Mr Power said.
“Unfortunately, people moving tilapia from one waterway to another has been a major component in their spread. Unknowingly, people often take tilapia to use as bait or as a pet fish to put in aquariums at home.
“If more people understand the threat and know how to recognise the tilapia, they will be less likely to spread the fish. Keeping tilapia out of unaffected waterways is the best way to protect our native fish species in the face of this pest, which has been likened to the cane toad of the water.”
Tilapia have two reliable identifying features: they have a single complete dorsal fin with no dent or gap, and they have pointed dorsal and pectoral fins, whereas most native fish have rounded fins.
“If you sight or catch a Tilapia, we are asking people to ring Queensland Fisheries as a first port of call to report the find,” Mr Power said.
“If caught, tilapia should be humanely killed and disposed of away from the water’s edge—for example by placing the fish in an ice slurry then burying on site. It is illegal to take tilapia for consumption.”
Mr Power said most people were also not aware substantial fines may also apply for anyone found with tilapia.
“This fish is declared noxious in Queensland and penalties of up to $200,000 apply. It is illegal to place or release fish alive or dead in Queensland waterways,” he said.
What you can do
- Learn how to identify tilapia.
- Report tilapia sightings to Fisheries Queensland by phoning 13 25 23.
- Don’t spread tilapia between waterways.
- If you catch tilapia, dispose of them humanely away from waterways.
For more information visit www.daff.qld.gov.au/fisheries/pest-fish/noxious-fish/tilapia.