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Tuatara: Volume 24, Issue 1, October 1979

New Zealand Freshwater Fishes

page 22

New Zealand Freshwater Fishes

Published by Heinemann Educational Books (N.Z.) Ltd. 230 pp. 1978. $24.75.

It is a difficult task to write for both the scientist and the interested layman within the confines of a single book but it is one that has been squarely tackled by Dr Bob McDowall in this much-needed reference work on the New Zealand freshwater fish fauna. To the freshwater biologist, the book is a mine of authoritative information on many aspects of our river and lake fishes, written by an expert who has spent his life catching and studying these species. To the fisherman or keen layman it may appear at first sight to be frighteningly scientific but it is certainly not incomprehensible. Although it contains many scientific terms (all explained), the text presents a wealth of easily readable natural history information.

The major part of the book comprises descriptive sections which treat each species of fish, family by family. An introductory chapter outlines morphological features of value for classifying and identifying fishes and explains the terms and measurements used in the descriptive sections. Field techniques are discussed and a key to all families of fishes found in fresh water is given. Incidentally, the definition of ‘freshwater fishes’ extends from wholly freshwater species to those that are basically marine but regularly enter estuaries and lowland rivers, so that fishes like kahawai, the mullets and a stargazer fall within the scope of this book.

Beautifully clear drawings by the author, as well as colour and monochrome photographs, illustrate each fish — its habitats and its diagnostic features. In most cases identification should be possible from the illustrations alone. However, all aids are provided with considerable emphasis on keys for family and species identification. The reference list with over 250 entries should be a valuable source of material for future workers.

Although the descriptive chapters concentrate on reference material, presented in a carefully standardised format which does not lend itself to casual reading, there is some scope for the latter in the chapters on New Zealand fisheries, the diseases and parasites of fishes and the distribution and relationships of our fish fauna. Here we find summaries of fish introductions, historical comments on fisheries (i.e. the days when West-Coasters used whitebait as garden fertiliser) and an expression of concern for the lack of consideration given to wetlands and freshwater fishes in the hurly-burly of ‘progress’.

There are many biologists who will find this book indispensable, others who will want to have it amongst their ‘answers to queries’ books and a still larger number of fishermen and naturalists who will enjoy its information and appreciate its clear guide to the fishes. All these readers should be well pleased and particularly grateful to Dr McDowall for presenting it so clearly and accurately.