Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lungfish a breed apart

QUEENSLAND lungfish may be regarded as unusual and totally protected, but Gordon Hides has about 7000 of them."We have worked out how to breed them where the scientists couldn't," said Hides, who with his wife, Linda, operates the world's only commercial lungfish farm at Howard, near Maryborough.And they export young lungfish to fish fanciers all over the world at $500 each."There's been a lot of talk, with scientists getting on the bandwagon, about the Traveston dam killing lungfish and making them extinct and it's a whole lot of garbage," he said.Hides, 67, said scientists had said female lungfish laid 100 eggs which were individually fertilised by the male."That's poppycock," he said. "One big old female can lay 15,000 eggs and it would be impossible for the male to fertilise them all. They are pea-sized eggs, and in the wild, everything from insects to fish and snakes will eat them."When the young hatch, they lie on their sides for the first couple of weeks, hardly moving at all, and sometimes they go back into their eggs."The Hides feed algae and black worms to the fry and for the first month, they are slow growers. After 12 months, the lungfish are 30cm long.Working with Department of Primary Industries officers, Hides said the biggest lungfish he had seen was a 1.4m specimen, probably 100 years old.When the young reach about 15cm long, they are individually placed in plastic boxes, kept wet and shipped to public aquariums, commercial marine attractions, private collectors and scientific establishments worldwide."We've never lost one," he said. "We sell over the internet to collectors in South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Korea and the US. Japan is our biggest market." Recently, British wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough visited the Hides' 5ha property with its array of concrete tanks, to film lungfish for his latest nature series, Life in Cold Blood.Reaching this point has been a long haul for the Hides."We pestered the government for nearly 20 years before we got a licence to breed lungfish, then it was another five years of applications to get an export licence," he said.In 2001, the couple achieved the first of four successful spawnings. They have 10 large breeding lungfish and another 10 "future breeders". The fourth and most recent spawning has given the couple young lungfish worth about $3.5 million.Now they're ready for a break. At 67, Hides' health is failing."We have not had a day off for 10 years," he said."You're sitting there waiting for them to breed. There's some stress in it all and we are not getting any younger."If you've a lazy $1.5 million, the Hides would like to hear from you. Visit their lungfish website:

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