Jack Dempsey pest fish out for the count

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Clarence Valley Council will join forces to eradicate a noxious pest fish from one of the North Coast's most popular swimming pools, the 'Green Pool' at Angourie, near Yamba.

The fish, known as the 'Jack Dempsey' cichlid is a Central American species which is particularly aggressive, predatory and territorial and grows up to 25cm.

It is named after American heavyweight boxer, Jack Dempsey, whose savage style in the ring produced 50 knock-outs in a 79-bout career.

The species could have a devastating impact on the native fish population, if it found its way into the nearby Clarence River.

This is the first time the fish has been found in the wild in NSW. It will eat almost anything smaller than itself - including native fish, invertebrates and amphibians.

So far, it has only been found in the Green Pool, and authorities are anxious to act while we still have a chance to eradicate it.

Because it is such a popular pet species, it is believe this could be the result of a careless person throwing away the contents of their aquarium.

It shows the importance of people taking care when disposing of exotic fish or aquatic plants, and of the public reporting any sightings of these species in the wild.

DPI manager, sustainable fisheries and threatened species, Bill Talbot, said a series of mild detonations would be used to eradicate the fish from the pool.

"After considering the alternatives, the experts considered this was the safest and most effective method of removing this dangerous pest, as it will have minimal impact on surrounding wildlife," Mr Talbot said.

"Chemical use was not an option due to the pool's popularity as a swimming area, and the proximity of the Yuraygir National Park.

"The method we will adopt has successfully been used before in Australia. For example, it was used in 2003, in Western Australian in 2003 to remove another aggressive pest fish, redfin perch.

"A survey of the pool by DPI found only one other fish present - another introduced species, the mosquito fish or Gambusia, which also threatens native fish.

"DPI estimates there are thousands of 'Jack Dempseys' in the 'Green Pool', but none in the nearby 'Blue Pool'."

With approval from WorkCover, a qualified expert will lay out a network of mild detonators in the pool. When triggered, the shockwaves will either kill or stun fish in the pool. The fish will then be removed, leaving no after-effects on water quality.

Clarence Valley Council, Environmental Officer, Bill Sansom said the two pools are extremely popular with tourists and surfers, especially in the summer months.

"We want to eradicate the fish before the pools are used again in summer," said Mr Sansom.

"The Jack Dempsey fish breeds during the warmer months, and we want to get rid of them before they have a chance to breed this year.

"The eradication is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, 1 September 2004, and the pool will be closed on that day.

"We are asking people to stay away from the area on that day, signs will be installed and staff will be onsite to ensure the safety of visitors and local residents."

Residents wanting further information on the operation can contact Bill Sansom on (02) 6645-0249, or Rebecca Chapman from DPI on (02) 9492-9434.

Anyone with sightings of exotic fish in NSW waterways is urged to call the reporting hotline on (02) 4916 3877.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Doug Chapman (DPI) on (02) 8437-4915 or 0408 484 176