The barcoding of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (coI) gene was amplified and sequenced from 16 species of freshwater fishes found in Lake Wivenhoe (south-eastern Queensland, Australia) to support monitoring of reservoir fish populations, ecosystem function and water health. In this study, 630-650 bp sequences of the coI barcoding gene from 100 specimens representing 15 genera, 13 families and two subclasses of fishes allowed 14 of the 16 species to be identified and differentiated. The mean ± s.e. Kimura 2 parameter divergence within and between species was 0·52 ± 0·10 and 23·8 ± 2·20% respectively, indicating that barcodes can be used to discriminate most of the fish species accurately. The two terapontids, Amniataba percoides and Leiopotherapon unicolor, however, shared coI DNA sequences and could not be differentiated using this gene. A barcoding database was established and a qPCR assay was developed using coI sequences to identify and quantify proportional abundances of fish species in ichthyoplankton samples from Lake Wivenhoe. These methods provide a viable alternative to the time-consuming process of manually enumerating and identifying ichthyoplankton samples.