Molecular genetic information should be a prerequisite when evaluating conservation priorities in highly structured species such as freshwater fishes. Nuclear (allozyme) and mitochondrial (cytochrome b) markers were used to investigate phylogeographic structure in the Yarra pygmy perch Nannoperca obscura (Klunzinger), a threatened freshwater fish endemic to mainland south-eastern Australia. Complementary patterns of strong, geographically defined sub-structure were observed including a major east–west divergence (at the Glenelg River), four diagnosable lineages, and statistically-significant differences between most populations. Accordingly, four Evolutionarily Significant Units (ESUs) are defined and multiple, drainage-scale Management Units (MUs) suggested. Since Nannoperca obscura is a relatively poor disperser with no apparent gene flow between most populations, any regional extirpation would see the irreversible loss of genetic diversity. This is problematic, as several populations, most notably a recently discovered ESU in the Murray-Darling Basin, are feared extirpated through a combination of anthropogenic threats and severe drought. The potential loss of unique evolutionarily components within N. obscura soon after their discovery highlights with some urgency, the need to define and protect conservation units in highly modified freshwater habitats.