The Galaxiids are a family of mostly small freshwater fish. Representatives occur throughout the southern hemisphere, including South Africa, South America, New Zealand, Australia, Lord Howe Island, New Caledonia and the Falkland Islands. One species of Galaxiid, Galaxias maculatus is probably the most widely naturally distributed freshwater fish in the world. They are cool water species, found in temperate latitudes, with only one species known from sub-tropical habitat (McDowall, 2006). Many specialize in living in cold, high altitude upland rivers, streams and lakes.
Some Galaxiids live in freshwater all their lives but many include a marine cycle for the formation of their juveniles whereby larvae are hatched in a river but are washed downstream to the ocean where they develop and return to rivers as juveniles and further develop and remain as adults.
Freshwater Galaxiid species are gravely threatened by exotic salmonid species, particularly exotic trout species, which predate upon Galaxiids and compete with them for food. Exotic salmonids have been recklessly introduced to many different landmasses (e.g. Australia, New Zealand), with no thought as to impacts on native fish, or attempts to preserve salmonid-free habitats for them. Numerous localized extinctions of Galaxiid species have been caused by the introduction of exotic salmonids and a number of freshwater Galaxiid species are threatened with overall extinction by exotic salmonids (McDowall, 2006).
The juveniles of those Galaxiid that develop in the ocean and then move into rivers for their adult life are caught as whitebait while moving upstream and are much valued as a delicacy.
Adult Galaxiids may be caught for food but they are generally not large. In some cases their exploitation may be banned (i.e. New Zealand) unless available to indigenous tribes.
In addition to serious impacts from exotic trout species, Australian adult Galaxiids suffer a disregard from anglers for being “too small” and “not being trout”. This is despite the fact that several Australian Galaxiid species, though smallish, grow to a sufficient size to be catchable and readily take wet and dry flies, and that one of these species – Spotted Galaxias – was keenly fished for in Australia before the introduction of exotic trout species. A handful of fly-fishing exponents in Australia are rediscovering the pleasure of catching (and releasing) these fascinating Australian native fish on ultra-light fly-fishing tackle.