Eel-tailed catfish

Ark of taste
Back to the archive >

Eel-tailed catfish is a freshwater fish species that is endemic to the Murray-Darling river system of eastern Australia, found from northern Queensland to central New South Wales.

Eel-tailed catfish have large heads with thick and fleshy lips and tubular nostrils. The skin is tough and smooth. Body color in adults varys from olive-green to brown, black or purplish on their backs and white on the undersides. The eel-tail catfish have four pairs of barbels surrounding the mouth, sharp serrated dorsal and pectoral fin spines which are venomous and can cause a very painful wound.

They are solid, almost cylindrical, elongated fish, with the posterior half of their body tapering into a pointed eel-like tail. A continuous fin margin surrounds this tapering posterior half of the body with small eyes. They commonly grow 50 to 90cm in length and 1.8 to 6kg in weight and they may live up to 8 years.

For thousands of years, indigenous people of the Murray-Darling basin obtained an estimated 40% of their protein from fish, crustaceans and shellfish. Archaeological examinations of middens indicate that eel-tailed catfish were one of the most commonly consumed fish by the indigenous population. Following the European colonization of the Murray-Darling basin in the nineteenth century, eel-tailed catfish was precious due to its delicate flavor and white flesh. However, populations have suffered severe declines since the 1980s. A major part of the populations in the southern Murray-Darling river system are already extinct or nearly so though they are still relatively common in the Hunter River in New South Wales.

Numerous factors contributed to their extinction. Habitat degradation and barriers to movement, increased predation and competition with introduced species such as carp and redfin propagated their decrease since the 1970s. Nowadays, freshwater catfish populations produced via aquaculture are used to restock dams for private consumption and due to its protected status, if it is caught by anglers it must be returned. Fortunately, populations in several rivers and impoundments in the northern half of the Murray-Darling, Murray River and South Australia appear to be secure for now.

The freshwater catfish population in the Murray-Darling Basin is listed as: New South Wales Fisheries Management Act 1994: Endangered; Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988: Threatened; South Australian Fisheries Management Act 2007: Protected.

Back to the archive >



New South Wales



Production area:Murray-Darling River System

Other info


Fish, sea food and fish products

Nominated by:John McGlashan