The Red Handfish (Thymichthys politus) is arguably one of the rarest marine fish species in the world, with an adult population estimated at about 100 in 2019.
The species used to be common across south-eastern Tasmania and on the north coast, and was collected and painted at the Port Arthur penal colony in the 1800s. But extensive surveys in the past 15 years at historical sighting locations across its former range found populations at only two patches of shallow rocky reef in Frederick Henry Bay, each less than 70 metres long.
The Red Handfish is listed under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 as Critically Endangered and is therefore protected in Tasmania. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species is being updated to recognise Red Handfish as Critically Endangered (considered to be facing extremely high risk of extinction in the wild).
The National Handfish Recovery Team coordinates research and conservation efforts for the Red Handfish, as well as for the Spotted Handfish and Ziebell’s Handfish, through the Handfish Conservation Project (handfish.org.au).