Murray Cod (2018)
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Murray Cod is the largest solely freshwater fish in Australia. It occurs throughout most of the Murray–Darling system. Stock status is depleted in the ACT and SA, and undefined in NSW, QLD and VIC.
Stock Status Overview
|New South Wales||New South Wales||Undefined||Historical fishery catch, fishery-independent surveys, recreational fishing surveys|
Murray Cod is the largest solely freshwater fish in Australia. It occurs throughout most of the Murray–Darling system, except for the upper reaches of some tributaries in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and southern New South Wales. Investigation of the genetic structure in the Murray–Darling Basin has demonstrated that there is one large genetically panmictic biological stock throughout most of its distribution [Rourke et al. 2011]. However, genetically distinct populations have been identified in the more isolated Lachlan, Macquarie and Gwydir catchments [Rourke et al. 2011]. This separation appears to be the result of restricted gene flow due to the isolated nature of these catchments [Rourke et al. 2011]. Although genetic studies suggest the existence of one biological stock, there are differences in management arrangements and available information in the various jurisdictions.
Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
New South Wales
The abundance of Murray Cod is considered to be much-reduced compared to that of pre-European settlement levels in New South Wales [Harris and Gehrke 1997]. Concerns were raised as early as 1880 regarding declines in abundance, based largely on falling catch rates within the commercial fishery [Rowland 1989]. While fishing effort remained at around the same level, annual commercial catches declined from a high in the mid-1950s of around 140 tonnes (t), to less than 35 t by the mid-1960s, indicating a substantial decline in catch per unit effort [Rowland 1989]. The annual catch remained below 35 t in the majority of years until the commercial fishery was closed in New South Wales in 2001 [Rowland 1989].
The recreational fishery for Murray Cod has continued to grow in New South Wales and encompasses two main sectors; impoundment fisheries and riverine fisheries. The 2000–01 national survey estimated that around 161 000 Murray Cod were caught annually by New South Wales residents across New South Wales, with around 26 per cent of these fish harvested [West et al. 2016] and the rest released. A more recent survey in 2013–14 found that angler effort had increased since 2000–01, but total catch remained similar (165 557 fish) [West et al. 2016]. However, harvest had declined considerably, from 26 per cent of the total catch in 2000–01, to 13 per cent in 2013–14. A targeted creel survey undertaken in 2012–13 across 76 km of the Murrumbidgee River estimated annual catches of Murray Cod in this area to be as high as 32 000 fish, with only around five per cent retained [Forbes et al. 2015b]. The results of these more recent surveys suggest that the recreational sector is increasingly targeting the species, but are also more commonly practising catch-and-release.
A number of management actions have been implemented to facilitate species recovery across New South Wales. This has included restocking, with ~14 million hatchery-reared fry and fingerlings released into many of the State’s impoundments and rivers since the late-1970s. Until recently, little was known of the efficacy of these stockings, and it was largely assumed that they were a primary contributor to the recovery of the species in many river systems. An assessment of stocking success was recently undertaken in two rivers in the southern Murray–Darling Basin and one impoundment in north-western New South Wales [Forbes et al. 2015a]. There was a comparatively low proportion of stocked Murray Cod among those sampled in the Murray (seven per cent) and Murrumbidgee (15 per cent) Rivers [Forbes et al. 2015a]. In contrast, stocked Murray Cod comprised almost the entire population in Copeton Dam (94 per cent) [Forbes et al. 2015a]. These data suggest that while stocking is helping to enhance Murray Cod populations in impoundments, natural recruitment, potentially driven by other management actions such as closed seasons, size-and-bag regulations and habitat rehabilitation, are also likely contributing to population recovery in rivers. In 2014, in line with Victoria, a State-wide harvest slot of 550–750 mm was introduced, with the daily bag limit of two and possession limit of four, remaining the same. Recent targeted surveys in the Border Rivers region of northern New South Wales has shown somewhat of a negative outcome in the overall population structure of Murray Cod in the two rivers sampled pre- and post-slot, with truncation evident at 500–550 mm and no discernable increase in the number of fish above 750 mm.
Anecdotal reports and scientific surveys suggest that Murray Cod numbers are increasing in at least some New South Wales rivers, whilst in others, numbers appear to be stable or may be declining [Barwick et al. 2014, Rowland 2013]. Based on a long-term monitoring program over 17 years at 27 sites across New South Wales, it has been suggested, in those areas experiencing increases, that it could be as high as 740 per cent [Rowland 2013]. However, to-date there has been insufficient research undertaken to validate these estimates, and there has been no or little attempt to estimate total abundance or biomass at the local scale or across the State as a whole. There is also an absence of time-series data to provide a measure of recruitment and fishing mortality. As such, at this time there is insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock.
On the basis of the evidence provided above, Murray Cod in New South Wales is classified as an undefined stock.
Murray Cod biology [Anderson et al. 1992, Butler et al. unpublished data, Gooley et al. 1995, King et al. 2009, Lake 1967, Pollard 1966, Rowland 1985, Rowland 1998a, Whitley 1955]
|Species||Longevity / Maximum Size||Maturity (50 per cent)|
|Murray Cod||At least 48 years, ~1800 mm TL , 83 kg||First maturity at ~4–5 years, ~400–600 mm TL for both sexes. Variable across geographic regions|
|New South Wales|
|Hook and Line|
|Hook and Line|
|Method||New South Wales|
|New South Wales|
Commercial (management methods) Murray Cod captured by the Lakes and Coorong Fishery are currently protected under South Australian fishing regulations.
Indigenous (management methods) Indigenous fishers who can satisfy the requirements of the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) in relation to their connection to the specific area or waters may take sufficient Murray Cod to satisfy their customary, non-commercial domestic needs in South Australia and Queensland. Indigenous fishers who do not satisfy these requirements are subject to the standard recreational bag limits, size limits and closures.
Victoria – Indigenous fishing In Victoria, regulations for managing recreational fishing may not apply to fishing activities by Indigenous people. Victorian traditional owners may have rights under the Commonwealth's Native Title Act 1993 to hunt, fish, gather and conduct other cultural activities for their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs, without the need to obtain a licence. Traditional Owners that have agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) may also be authorised to fish without the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence. Outside of these arrangements, Indigenous Victorians can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Vic) that authorise customary fishing (for example, different catch and size limits or equipment).
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