Learn about the following species groups (including their most common members, as well as purchasing, storage and cooking information), or select a specific species from the species list on the right.
With our extensive coastline and oceans rich in marine life, Australians rarely think about the fish found in our rivers, lakes and freshwater streams. Such fish were, however, once an important food source for indigenous Australians as well as early settlers and explorers. With the exception of trout (which is covered in a separate article), destruction of their natural habitat, through weirs, dams and by introduced species such as carp, and previous recreational and commercial overfishing has dramatically reduced the population of most Australian freshwater fish. The good news is that several species are now farmed, providing a consistent and sustainable supply of these very tasty alternatives to saltwater fish.
The most common commercial freshwater fish in Australia are:
Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), a dark silver-grey fish with small, black edged scales, is the largest member of the grunter family. It is endemic to Australia and found throughout most of the Murray-Darling system. It is no longer harvested from the wild, but is farmed throughout Australia and is most commonly sold as plate-sized fish.
Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii), the largest freshwater fish found in Australia (and one of the largest in the world), is a fierce predator feeding on yabbies, fish, frogs, mice, even ducks, tortoises, water dragons and snakes. It has legendary status in the Murray Darling Basin of south-eastern Australia where specimens 1.8m long and over 100kg have been recorded. Since the mid-1990s there has been a ban on commercial fishing and only farmed fish are commercially available.
Barramundi (Lates calcarifer), an Aboriginal word meaning 'river fish with large scales', is found in rivers, creeks, estuaries and coastal shallows of tropical Australia, though all move into estuaries and coastal shallows to breed. Some fish is still harvested from the wild, though most is now farmed in either fresh or salt water ponds. Reaching up to 1.5m and 50kg in the wild, most are caught at less than 6kg, while farmed fish range from plate-sized (400-600g) to around 3kg.
Other freshwater fish occasionally seen in retail shops or harvested recreationally in various parts of Australia include: Golden Perch (Macquaria ambigua), a bronze to olive green fish with a yellow belly and a more pronounced humped back than the closely-related Murray cod and Australian bass, is found in central and eastern Australia from clear highland streams to slow-flowing muddy rivers as well as billabongs and dams. It was an historically important food source, though today it’s mainly caught recreationally and used to stock farm dams. Australian Bass (Macquaria novemaculeata) is also mainly caught recreationally and often found in farm dams. It lives in fresh and brackish water and is found in estuaries, rivers, small streams and lakes of eastern Australia from Gippsland in Victoria to the start of Queensland’s Mary River system.
Larger fish are usually sold in fillets or cutlets, while smaller, plate-sized fish are sold whole. In fillets and cutlets, look for lustrous, firm, moist white (to pinkish in barramundi) flesh without any brown markings or oozing water and with a pleasant fresh smell. In whole fish, look for firm flesh, which springs back when touched, and a pleasant fresh smell; the skin of Murray cod and silver perch has a slippery, mucilaginous coating.
Make sure whole fish is scaled, gutted and cleaned thoroughly. Wrap whole fish, fillets and cutlets in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze whole fish for up to 6 months, and fillets or cutlets for up to 3 months, below -18ºC.
Cooking & Serving
Most farmed freshwater fish has a delicate flavour and moist, medium-textured flesh, smaller fish tending to be softer than larger. The thick skin of Murray cod and silver perch is best removed, while barramundi is often cooked with the skin on. Score whole fish at the thickest part of the flesh to allow even heat penetration. Steam, poach, pan-fry, stir-fry, bake, grill or barbecue these fish. While Murray cod can be served slightly rare, silver perch and barramundi are best cooked through. Silver perch tends to be dry however if overcooked, so wrap in foil or banana leaves if baking or barbecuing, to prevent it drying out.