Hunt is on for aquatic pest

Wanted dead or alive: A pearl cichlid, believed to have been sighted in the Oxley River.
Wanted dead or alive: A pearl cichlid, believed to have been sighted in the Oxley River. Tweed Daily News

PEOPLE who fish or swim in the Tweed have been asked to keep a lookout for a pest species of fish which has been described as the aquatic equivalent of a cane toad.

Department of Primary Industries officials fear the subtropical aquarium fish which was discovered in a pond below the Clarrie Hall Dam earlier this year by a university student may have spread to other parts of the river system where it could wreak environmental damage.

The pearl cichlid, also called the pearl earth eater because of its habit of chewing up the beds of streams, has now also been found in the nearby Oxley River, several kilometres upstream from Murwillumbah.

The department's Aquatic Biosecurity and Risk Management manager Jane Frances yesterday called on anglers and swimmers in the area around Murwillumbah and Uki to keep a lookout for the fish.

“The species is a popular aquarium fish, having an attractive pattern of pearly spots over a grey-green body with red or red-edged fins,” Ms Frances said.

“They may look nice in an aquarium, but in the wild these fish can become an established pest, impacting on native fish populations.”

Ms Frances said the department had been preparing a plan to eradicate the fish from the pond below Clarrie Hall Dam when it became aware that the same species of cichlid had also been seen in the Oxley River.

“The Department is trying to determine exactly how widespread the fish have become,” Ms Frances said.

But the task, she added, was difficult because the fish can be very elusive, often difficult to see and even harder to catch.

Ms Frances said if fishers caught one they should freeze it and record exactly where they caught it, then call the DPI to arrange for the fish to be positively identified.

To report sightings of the pest fish, call the NSW DPI on 1300 550 474.

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