Australian National Fish Collection manager, Alastair Graham, with a fish.

Australian National Fish Collection manager, Alastair Graham.

Australian National Fish Collection

The Australian National Fish Collection, based at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Hobart, is a comprehensive and internationally-renowned biodiversity reference and research facility.

  • 19 July 2005 | Updated 22 February 2013

Since its foundation by Ian Munro in 1943, the collection has grown to house more than 145 000 finfish specimens representing more than 3000 species. These include Australian, Antarctic and Indo-Pacific oceanic, inshore, estuarine and river fishes.

The collection holds 160 holotypes (primary type specimens) and 1200 paratypes (supplementary specimens) of 280 newly-described species, and substantial voucher material relating to published books and papers, illustrations and photographs.

International significance

The collection is internationally recognised for its Indo-Pacific sharks and rays and temperate and Southern Ocean species. It acts as a focal point for national and international collaboration.

Taxonomic information and specimens are regularly exchanged with museums worldwide. Several hundred of the specimens in the fish collection are of species new to science and are waiting to be formally ‘described’.

The Australian National Fish Collection houses 145 000 finfish specimens representing more than 3 000 species.

Description and classification

Two main numerical techniques are used in the process of scientific description. They are ‘meristics’, which involves counting the number of bones, cartilage and fin rays in different parts of the fish, and ‘morphometrics’, which involves measuring the length of, or distance between physical features. Observations of fish shape, size, colour and other general features also are noted.

Fish can then be classified into groups of individuals, (family, genus, species), that, based on these observations and numerical results, taxonomists consider to be related. This taxonomic information is vital to associated research in areas such as marine biology, ecology, conservation and fisheries management.


In addition to its value as a reference library, the fish collection is an invaluable source of material for publications that benefit conservation and fisheries management, the seafood industry and a wider public audience.

For example, the collection has provided information for a description of the fish fauna around Macquarie Island, south of Tasmania, which is used by Patagonian toothfish fishers to accurately record bycatch species. This information is used in assessing the sustainability of the toothfish fishery. Publications to flow from the collection include:

  • Sharks and rays of Australia
  • Australian Seafood Handbook, an identification guide to domestic species
  • Australian Seafood Handbook, an identification guide to imported species
  • Field guide to Australian sharks and rays.


Another valuable component of the collection is the Photographic Index of Australian Fishes, the largest of its kind the Southern Hemisphere. Some 40 000 colour transparencies document more than 2 500 fish species, or more than half of Australia’s entire fish fauna.

This index is also a valuable research and fishing industry resource, encompassing all of Australia’s commercial seafood species, and rarely photographed bycatch species.

The collection also contains:

  • hundreds of jars of ichthyoplankton (fish eggs and larval fish)
  • several collections of otoliths (ear bones, for determining the age of fish)
  • x-ray plates used for detailed bone studies.

The collection has been computer-indexed in preparation for future linkage with other CSIRO collections and museum systems.

Find out about other CSIRO Facilities & Collections.