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Australian bass (Macquaria novemaculeata) are a small to medium sized, primarily freshwater native fish found in coastal rivers and streams along the east coast of Australia. They are a member of the Percichthyidae family and, currently, the Macquaria genus. Australian bass are an iconic, highly predatory native fish. They are an important member of the native fish faunas found in east coast river systems and an extremely popular angling species.
Australian bass (Macquaria novemaculeata) are closely related and very similar in appearance to estuary perch (Macquaria colonorum). Estuary perch however tend to remain in the estuarine reaches or (occasionally) the extreme lower freshwater reaches.
As their scientific names indicate, Australian bass and estuary perch are currently placed in the Macquaria genus — one of a number of Australian genera in the Percichthyidae family — along with two species of native perch from the Murray-Darling Basin, golden perch (Macquaria ambigua) and Macquarie perch (Macquaria australasica). This revision to their taxonomy occurred in the late 1970s. Prior to that, Australian bass and estuary perch were placed in a separate genus, Percalates. Results from recent research using genetic MtDNA analysis indicate Australian bass and estuary perch do belong in a separate genus to golden perch and Macquarie perch, and this may result in them being put back into a resurrected Percalates genus. A rather surprising and unexpected finding of this research is that the putative Percalates genus (i.e. Australian bass and estuary perch) appears to be genetically closer to the Maccullochella genus (i.e. Murray cod and other cod species) than the remnant Macquaria genus is (i.e. golden perch and Macquarie perch) (Jerry et al., 2001).
Australian bass have a moderately deep, elongated body that is laterally compressed. They have a forked caudal (“tail”) fin and angular anal and soft dorsal fins. Their spiny dorsal fin is of medium height, strong and sharp. They have a medium sized mouth and relatively large eyes than can appear dark in low light or red in bright light. The opercula or gill covers on Australian bass carry extremely sharp flat spines that can cut fishermens’ fingers deeply.
Australian bass vary in colour from gold in clear sandy streams to the more usual bronze or bronze-green colouration in streams with darker substrates and/or some tannin staining to the water.
Australian bass are, overall, a smallish-sized species, averaging in most waters around 0.5 kg and 20–30 cm. A fish of 1 kg or larger is a good specimen. Maximum size appears to be around 2.5 kg and 55 cm in southern waters, and around 3.0 kg and 60–65 cm in northern waters.