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Brook char

Other common name(s): 
Brook trout
Scientific name: 
Salvelinus fontinalis
Mitchill, 1815
Neil Armstrong
Threatened but recovering


A medium sized fish that is similar to other trout in body shape, but with a very large mouth reaching much further back behind the eye. Like other salmonids in Australia, the tail is forked. Maximum length 850 mm (Length to Caudal Fork; LCF) and maximum weight 6.5 kg. The colouring is distinctive: the body is dark olive-green with irregular mottling and paler markings; the sides are paler with red spots surrounded by blueish halos; and the dorsal fin and tail are olive-green with irregular patterning.

Biology and Habitat

Brook char is a cool water species of clear streams and lakes that does not coexist well with other salmonids such as Brown and Rainbow trout. Only two self-sustaining population are known on mainland Australia, one in the New England Tablelands on a tributary of Dungowan Creek (Peel River catchment), (although the status of this population following the Millennium Drought is unknown), and another in Ogilvies Creek in the upper Murray catchment (fish were still present in Ogilvies Creek in mid-2016). The Ogilvies Creek population is likely to stem from a stocking of 4000 and 3000 fingerlings in 1988 and 1992 respectively.

The species is regularly stocked in Tasmania with a handful of self-sustaining populations established. It is rarely stocked on mainland Australia other than occasionally stockings into lakes and streams in the NSW portion of the Murray-Darling Basin. It is now only stocked into a single dam in the Basin (Dry Dam on Eight Mile Creek near Cabramurra in the Tumut River catchment) with 2000-5000 fish stocked annually. It is also stocked into another two dams in the adjacent Snowy River catchment (Lake Jindabyne and Three Mile Dam).

Its breeding is similar to that of Brown trout. In their native North America they spawn in late summer or autumn. The large (3.5–5.0 mm diameter) eggs are deposited in a nest in gravelly areas in either streams or lakes. Fecundity is moderate and size-dependant, with between 100 and 5,000 eggs laid. Adults mature at 2–3 years, and are not as long-lived as Brown trout, with few individuals reaching 5 years, and none reaching 8 years of age. The diet contains freshwater insects, crustaceans, molluscs and terrestrial insects as well as small fish. A study on the species in a tributary of Lake Jindabyne reported substantial predation by Short-finned eel, with 22% of eels captured having small (30-70 mm) Brook char or Rainbow trout in their stomachs. Only eels > 400 mm TL consumed trout, with all trout in eel stomachs being <130 mm length. About 25% of larger trout had damaged fins or scars, indicating predation was attempted on larger fish.  

Impacts on Native Fish

Due to its limited distribution within the Basin, little is known of the impacts of the Brook char on native fish. As a large predatory species, it is expected that it would consume small native fish such as galaxiids and small perch, as well as native crayfish. However, its impacts on native fish are thought to be less deleterious than that of Rainbow and Brown trout.  

Distribution and Abundance

The Brook char is native to the east coast of North America. It was introduced to Australia (Tas) from New Zealand in 1883 but despite numerous hatchery spawning’s and releases to many parts of the state over the next few years the species did not establish. Similarly, the species was introduced to Vic (1890s) and NSW (late 1800s) but the species did not establish. Releases in the Finniss River in SA in 1975 and urban lakes in Canberra from 1975-80 were not successful.

A further introduction to Tas from Canada in 1962 is the basis for all current hatchery holdings, with 5000 fry from Tas given to NSW in 1968, forming he basis for the NSW stocking program. It is not common in the Basin. It has been stocked into various streams and lakes but rarely establishes reproducing populations, hence its reputation on the mainland as ‘soluble trout’—i.e. when added to water it is not seen again. The species does not coexist well with other trout species in Australia or North America. It is regularly stocked into impoundments in Tas, particularly those without adequate natural salmonid spawning habitat.

Occasional illegal stockings also occur (e.g., into habitat below Eucumbene Dam being restored for Stocky galaxias reintroduction). Since 2016 it has been stocked into Lake Purrumbete in coastal Vic, the first official release of this species in Vic. No individuals have been recorded from the Sustainable Rivers Audit (2004–2013) or the MDB Fish Survey (2014/15–2021/22).

General References

Brinsley 2011; Cadwallader 1996; Cadwallader & Backhouse 1983; Clements 1988; Davies & McDowall 1996; Faragher 1986; Fausch 2008; Fulton 1990; Jarvis et al. 2019; Kanno et al. 2016; Korsu et al. 2007; Llewellyn 2011; Merrick & Schmida 1984; Scott & Crossman 1973.

This species account is an extract from Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin (second edition) and should be cited as "Lintermans, M. 2023, Fishes of the Murray–Darling Basin, Australian River Restoration Centre, Canberra."

Other Fish in this family

Front book cover of Fishes of the Murray–Darling Basin

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The second edition of Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin by Mark Lintermans is available now! This edition has been fully revised, incorporating new ecological knowledge on each species and additional species accounts.

Fishes of the Murray-Darling Basin remains the only book of its kind, devoted exclusively to the fishes of Australia’s largest river system, containing rigorous information on the identification, habitats, biology and distribution of the freshwater fish of the Murray-Darling Basin, as well as background information on the threats to fish and aquatic ecosystems. It is an invaluable resource for naturalists, students, fishers, scientists and anyone else interested in the life within our rivers.

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