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Stock Status Overview
|New South Wales||New South Wales||Undefined||Catch, CPUE, abundance 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, where there is connectivity between catchments, one large genetically panmictic biological stock exists throughout most of its distribution1. However, genetically distinct populations have been identified in the more isolated Lachlan, Macquarie and Gwydir catchments1. This separation appears to be the result of restricted gene flow due to isolated catchments, but may also be influenced by stocking programs1. 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.
Since European settlement, populations have declined in abundance and range as a result of a number of threats, including river regulation, habitat degradation, disease, and exploitation by commercial and recreational fishers2–5. Commercial fishing for this species is currently prohibited in the Murray–Darling Basin, but take by recreational fishers has also been shown to affect population structure6. Consequently, Murray Cod is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) and a National Recovery Plan has been developed for this species7. A cross-jurisdictional Murray Cod Fishery Management Group was established in 2010 to improve collaboration on, and alignment of, recreational fisheries management and research for the species across the Basin7. Management strategies, including the closure of commercial fisheries, harvest restrictions, restocking, and seasonal closures to protect spawning populations, have resulted in evidence of recovery in some areas8–12. Nevertheless, recovery is still insufficient to remove this species from EPBC listings.
New South Wales
The range and abundance of Murray Cod are considered to be much-reduced compared to that of pre-European settlement levels in New South Wales11. Concerns were raised as early as 1880 regarding declines in abundance, based largely on falling catch rates within the commercial fishery5. 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 effort5. The annual catch remained below 35 t in the majority of years until the commercial fishery was closed in New South Wales in 20015.
The recreational fishery for Murray Cod has continued to grow in New South Wales. The 2000–01 national survey estimated that around 161 000 Murray Cod were caught annually by recreational anglers across New South Wales, with around 25 per cent of these fish harvested19. A more recent survey in 2013–14, found that angler effort had increased since 2000–01 and that total catch had also increased by around three per cent, to 165 557 fish28. 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, but even fewer were harvested, with only around five per cent retained29. The results of these more recent surveys suggest that the recreational sector are increasingly targeting the species, but are also more commonly practicing catch-and-release.
A number of management actions have been implemented to facilitate population recovery across New South Wales. This has included restocking, with over five million hatchery-reared fry and fingerlings released into many of the state’s impoundments and rivers since the late-1970’s. 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 Wales30. There was a comparatively low proportion of stocked Murray Cod among those sampled in the Murray (seven per cent) and Murrumbidgee (15 per cent) Rivers30. In contrast, stocked Murray Cod comprised almost the entire population in Copeton Dam (94 per cent)30. 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. Recently, in line with Victoria, new fisheries regulations have been implemented to manage the Murray Cod recreational fishery. In December 2014, a state-wide slot limit of 550–750 mm was introduced, with the daily bag limit of two and possession limit of four, remaining the same.
Anecdotal reports and scientific surveys suggest that Murray cod numbers are increasing in at least some New South Wales rivers8,31. Based on a long-term monitoring program over 17 years at 27 sites across New South Wales, it has been suggested these increases could be as high as 740 per cent in some areas31. However, to-date there has been insufficient research undertaken to validate these estimates, and there has been no attempt to estimate total abundance or biomass 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 biology22,45–51
|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; ~450–600 mm TL for both sexes Variable across geographic regions|
Distribution of Murray Cod based on reported catch
|New South Wales|
|Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels|
|Hand Line, Hand Reel or Powered Reels|
|Method||New South Wales|
|New South Wales|
a Commercial (management methods) Murray Cod captured by the Lakes and Coorong Fishery are currently protected under South Australian fishing regulations.
b 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.
c Victoria - Indigenous (management methods) In Victoria, regulations for managing recreational fishing are also applied to fishing activities by Indigenous people. Recognised Traditional Owners (groups that hold native title or have agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 [Vic]) can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Vic) that authorise customary fishing (for example, different catch and size limits, or equipment). The Indigenous category in Table 3 refers to customary fishing undertaken by recognised Traditional Owners. In 2012–13, there were no applications for customary fishing permits to access Murray Cod.
Effects of fishing on the marine environment
- Although Murray Cod is no longer targeted by commercial fishing, it is a highly prized catch for recreational fishers. Release rates are very high for this species because of catch-and-release practices or specific fishing regulations19, which differ considerably between jurisdictions. Studies have investigated the post-release mortality of Murray Cod and found it to be between two and 15 per cent52,53.
- Recreational fishers targeting Murray Cod often make incidental catches of other native species, such as Golden Perch (Macquaria ambigua) and the threatened Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis). The recreational catch of these other species is also controlled under state and territory recreational fishing regulations, but there may be post-release mortalities for these species.
- While the recreational fishing take and stocking of Murray Cod impacts their populations6, the potential effects of changes in the abundance of this top order predator on the freshwater ecosystem (for example, trophic dynamics) are unknown. Implications of disease and other potential environmental risks also need to be considered40. In addition, use of live organisms as bait is considered risky because of its potential to introduce and spread disease or noxious species, and the negative impacts that this may have on ecosystems54.
Environmental effects on Murray Cod
- Like many freshwater fish in the Murray–Darling Basin, Murray Cod populations have declined in abundance since the early-1900s as a result of anthropogenic impacts, such as altered natural flow regimes, habitat loss, barriers to movement, cold-water releases from dams, interactions with alien species and overharvesting3. Murray Cod prefer structurally complex habitats (for example, coarse wood and overhanging vegetation) in the main channel of the river and anabranches around which they maintain home sites55–58. Habitat alteration, such as removal of snags from the main channel and anabranches, will decrease habitat availability and potentially reduce Murray Cod abundance. In addition, fast-flowing lotic habitats are considered to be important for survival of Murray Cod larvae, and as a habitat for juveniles and adults41. Alteration to these conditions through anthropogenic (river regulation and water extraction) or natural (floods and drought) factors are likely to affect stocks.
- Enhanced recruitment of Murray Cod in lowland areas has been linked to increased river flow or flooding22,39. The exact mechanism driving recruitment is unknown, but it is likely to be linked to an increase in food resources for larvae and juveniles following floodplain inundation22.
- In lowland rivers, adult Murray Cod can undertake small- to large-scale movements (up to 120 km) from their home sites within the main river channel and anabranches, and between these habitats58–60. Lateral and longitudinal disconnection (for example, by structures or reduced flow) will alter the movement patterns of the species. In upland rivers, movements are likely to be limited by natural barriers such as gorges and waterfalls.
- Cold-water pollution, due to low-level releases from dams, has been deemed responsible for the loss of Murray Cod populations downstream of a number of impoundments61,62.
- Anoxic blackwater events in lowland environments that may occur as a result of flooding after prolonged periods of low flow, and other poor water quality events, can result in considerable mortality of Murray Cod59,63.
- 1 Rourke, ML, McPartlan, HC, Ingram, BA and Taylor, AC 2011, Variable stocking effect and endemic population genetic structure in Murray cod Maccullochella peelii, Journal of Fish Biology, 79: 155–177.
- 2 Koehn, J 2005, Threats to Murray cod, in M Lintermans and B Phillips (eds), Management of Murray cod in the Murray–Darling Basin: statement, recommendations and supporting papers, proceedings of a workshop held in Canberra, 3–4 June 2003, Murray–Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
- 3 Lintermans, M and Phillips, B 2005, Management of Murray cod in the Murray–Darling Basin: statement, recommendations and supporting papers, proceedings of a workshop held in Canberra, 3–4 June 2003, Murray– Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
- 4 Murray–Darling Basin Commission 2004, Native fish strategy for the Murray–Darling Basin 2003–2013, publication 25/04, Murray– Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
- 5 Rowland, SJ 1989, Aspects of the history and fishery of the Murray cod, Maccullochella peelii (Mitchell) (Perciththyidae), Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, 111: 201–213.
- 6 Nicol, S, Todd, C, Koehn, J and Lieschke, J 2004, How can recreational angling regulations help meet the multiple objectives for the management of Murray Cod populations?, in M Lintermans and B Phillips (eds), Management of Murray cod in the Murray–Darling Basin: statement, recommendations and supporting papers, proceedings of a workshop held in Canberra, 3–4 June 2003, Murray–Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
- 7 National Murray Cod Recovery Team 2010, National Murray Cod Recovery Plan for the Murray Cod Maccullochella peelii peelii, Victorian Government Department of Sustainability and Environment, Melbourne.
- 8 Barwick, MJ, Koehn, JD, Crook, DA, Todd, CR, Westaway, C and Trueman, W 2014, The future for managing recreational fisheries in the Murray–Darling Basin, Ecological Management and Restoration, 15: 75–81.
- 9 Davies, PE, Harris, JH, Hillman, TJ and Walker, KF 2008, Sustainable Rivers Audit Report 1: A Report on the ecological health of rivers in the Murray–Darling Basin, 2004–2007, prepared by the Independent Sustainable Rivers Audit Group for the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council, Murray–Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
- 10 Davies, PE, Stewardson, MJ, Hillman, TJ, Roberts, JR and Thoms, MC 2012, Sustainable Rivers Audit 2: The ecological health of rivers in the Murray–Darling Basin at the end of the Millennium Drought (2008–2010), volume 1, prepared by the Independent Sustainable Rivers Audit Group for the Murray–Darling Basin, Murray–Darling Basin Authority, Canberra.
- 11 Harris, J and Gehrke P 1997, Fish and rivers in stress: The NSW rivers survey, New South Wales Fisheries Office of Conservation and Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, in association with New South Wales Resource and Conservation Assessment Council, Cronulla.
- 12 Lintermans, M, Rowland, SJ, Koehn, JD, Butler, GL, Simpson, B and Wooden, I 2005, The status, threats and management of freshwater cod species Maccullochella spp. in Australia, in M Lintermans and B Phillips (eds), Management of Murray cod in the Murray–Darling Basin: statement, recommendations and supporting papers, proceedings of a workshop held in Canberra, 3–4 June 2003, Murray–Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
- 13 Greenham, P 1981, Murrumbidgee River aquatic ecology study, report to the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of Territories and Local Government, Canberra College of Advanced Education, Canberra.
- 14 Australian Capital Territory Government, unpublished data.
- 15 Australian Capital Territory Government 2015, Fish stocking plan for the Australian Capital Territory 2015–2020, Environment and Planning Directorate, Canberra.
- 16 Lintermans, M 2000, The Status of Fish in the Australian Capital Territory: A Review of Current Knowledge and Management Requirements, Technical Report 15, Environment Australian Capital Territory, Canberra.
- 17 Couch, AJ, Unmack, PJ, Dyer, FJ and Lintermans, M 2016, Who’s your mama? Riverine hybridisation of threatened freshwater Trout Cod and Murray Cod, PeerJ Preprints 4:e2593, DOI 10.7717/peerj.2593.
- 18 McGovern, A and Lintermans, M 2003, A creel survey of fish in the Murrumbidgee River, Australian Capital Territory, final report to Fisheries Action Program, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.
- 19 Henry, GW and Lyle, JM 2003, The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation project 00/158, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.
- 20 Schirmer, J and Mylek, M 2016, Water quality and the community: Understanding the views, values and actions of residents of the ACT and Surrounding Region, Report to ACT Government, University of Canberra, Canberra.
- 21 Humphries, P 2005, Spawning time and early life history of Murray cod, Maccullochella peelii (Mitchell) in an Australian river, Environmental Biology of Fishes, 72: 393–407.
- 22 King, AJ, Tonkin, Z and Mahoney, J 2009, Environmental flow enhances native fish spawning and recruitment in the Murray River, Australia, River Research and Applications, 25: 1205–1218.
- 23 Rowland, SJ 1998, Aspects of the reproductive biology of Murray Cod, Maccullochella peelii peelii, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, 120: 147–162.
- 24 Steven Brooks, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, personal communication.
- 25 Gavin Butler, Steven Brooks and Daniel Smith, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, and Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, unpublished data.
- 26 Taylor, S, Webley, J and McInnes, K 2012, 2010 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane.
- 27 Webley, J, McInnes, K, Teixeira, D, Lawson, A and Quinn, R 2015, Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey 2013-14, State of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Brisbane.
- 28 West, LD, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle, JM and Ochwada-Doyle, FA 2016, Survey of Recreational Fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14, Fisheries Final Report Series No. 149, New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Woolongong.
- 29 Forbes, JP, Watts, RJ, Robinson, WA, Baumgartner, LJ, Steffe, AS and Murphy, JJ 2015, Recreational Fishing Effort, Catch, and Harvest for Murray Cod and Golden Perch in the Murrumbidgee River, Australia, North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 35: 649–658.
- 30 Forbes, J, Watts, RJ, Robinson, WA, Baumgartner, LJ, McGuffie, P, Cameron, LM and Crook, DA 2015, Assessment of stocking effectiveness for Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii) and golden perch (Macquaria ambigua) in rivers and impoundments of south-eastern Australia, Marine and Freshwater Research, 67: 1410–1419.
- 31 Rowland, SJ 2013, Hatchery production for conservation and stock enhancement: the case of Australian freshwater fish, in G Allan and G Burnell (eds), Advances in aquaculture hatchery technology, Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge, England.
- 32 Cadwallader, PL and Gooley, GJ, 1984, Past and present distributions and translocations of Murray cod Maccullochella peelii and trout cod M. macquariensis (Pisces: Percichthyidae) in Victoria, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, 96: 33–43.
- 33 Wilson, E 1857, On the Murray River Cod, with particulars of experiments instituted for introducing this fish into the River Yarra-Yarra, Transactions of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, 2: 23–34.
- 34 Cadwallader, PL 1977, JO Langtry’s 1949–50 Murray River investigations, Fisheries and Wildlife Paper, Victoria, 13: 1–70.
- 35 Ingram, BA and De Silva, SS 2004, Development of intensive commercial aquaculture production technology for Murray Cod, Primary Industries Research Victoria, Marine and Freshwater Systems, Department of Primary Industries, Queenscliff.
- 36 Hunt, TL and Giri, K 2015, Estimating the economic benefits of recreational fishing in the Nagambie Lakes System, Fisheries Victoria Science Report Series No. 7, Fisheries Victoria, Queenscliff.
- 37 Fulton, W 2011, Sustainability of recreational fisheries for Murray Cod in the Murray–Darling Basin, final report to the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, project 2006/053, Victorian Department of Primary Industries, Queenscliff.
- 38 Ye, Q, Jones, K and Pierce, B 2000, Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii), Fishery assessment report to Primary Industries and Resources South Australia for the Inland Waters Fishery Management Committee, South Australian fisheries assessment series 2000/17, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide.
- 39 Ye, Q and Zampatti, B 2007, Murray cod stock status: the Lower River Murray, South Australia, Stock status report to Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (Fisheries), South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), SARDI publication F2007-000211-1, SARDI research report series 208, SARDI, Adelaide.
- 40 Gillanders, BM and Ye, Q 2011, Ecological risk assessment of stocking Murray Cod in South Australia, report to Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, and South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), SARDI publication F2011/000299-1, SARDI research report series 571, SARDI, Adelaide.
- 41 Zampatti, BP, Bice, CM, Wilson, PJ and Ye, Q 2014, Population dynamics of Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) in the South Australian reaches of the River Murray: a synthesis of data from 2002–2013, report to Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), SARDI publication F2014/000089-1, SARDI research report series 761, SARDI, Adelaide.
- 42 Ye, Q, Giatas, G, Aldridge, K, Busch, B, Gibbs, M, Hipsey, M, Lorenz, Z, Oliver, R, Shiel, R and Zampatti, B 2016, Long-Term Intervention Monitoring for the Ecological Responses to Commonwealth Environmental Water Delivered to the Lower Murray River Selected Area in 2014/15: A report prepared for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide.
- 43 Jones, K 2009, South Australian Recreational Fishing Survey 2007/08, South Australian fisheries management series 54, Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, Adelaide.
- 44 Giri, K and Hall, K 2015, South Australian Recreational Fishing Survey 2013/14, Fisheries Victoria Internal Report Series No. 62, Fisheries Victoria, Queenscliff.
- 45 Anderson, JR, Morison, AK and Ray, DJ 1992, Age and growth of Murray Cod, Maccullochella peelii (Perciformes: Percichthyidae), in the lower Murray–Darling Basin, from thin-sectioned otoliths, Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 43: 983–1013.
- 46 Gooley, GJ, Anderson, TA and Appleford, P 1995, Aspects of the reproductive cycle and gonadal development of Murray Cod, Maccullochella peelii peelii (Michell) (Percichthyidae), in Lake Charlegrark and adjacent farm ponds, Victoria, Australia, Marine and Freshwater Research, 46: 723–728.
- 47 Lake, JS 1967, Principal fishes of the Murray–Darling River system, in AH Weatherley (ed.), Australian inland waters and their fauna: eleven studies, Australian National University, Canberra.
- 48 Pollard, J 1966, The scream of the reel: Deep sea, beach, estuary and inland angling in Australian and New Zealand waters, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington.
- 49 Rowland, SJ 1985, Aspects of the biology and artificial breeding of the Murray Cod, Maccullochella peelii and the Eastern Freshwater Cod M. ikei sp. nov. (Pisces: Percichthyidae), PhD Thesis, Macquarie University, Sydney.
- 50 Rowland, SJ 1998, Age and growth of the Australian freshwater fish Murray Cod, Maccullochella peelii peelii, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, 120: 163–179.
- 51 Whitley, GP 1955, The largest (and the smallest) Australian fishes, Australian Museum Magazine, 11: 329–332.
- 52 Douglas, J, Brown, P, Hunt, T, Rogers, M and Allen, M 2010, Evaluating relative impacts of recreational harvest and discard mortality on Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii), Fisheries Research, 106: 18–21.
- 53 Hall, K, Broadhurst, MK and Butcher, PA 2012, Post-release mortality of angled Golden Perch Macquaria ambigua and Murray Cod Maccullochella peelii, Fisheries Management and Ecology, 19: 10–21.
- 54 Phillips, B 2003, Managing fish translocation and stocking in the Murray–Darling Basin, workshop held in Canberra, 25–26 September 2002: Statement, recommendations and supporting papers, World Wildlife Fund, Sydney.
- 55 Boys, CA and Thoms, MC 2006, A large-scale, hierarchical approach for assessing habitat associations of fish assemblages in large dryland rivers, Hydrobiologia, 572: 11–31.
- 56 Koehn, JD 2009, Multi-scale habitat selection by Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) in two lowland rivers, Journal of Fish Biology, 75: 113–129.
- 57 Koehn, JD and Nicol, SJ 2014, Comparative habitat use by large riverine fishes, Marine and Freshwater Research, 65: 164–174.
- 58 Koehn, JD, McKenzie, JA, O’Mahony, DJ, Nicol, SJ, O’Connor, JP and O’Connor, WG 2009, Movements of Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) in a large Australian lowland river, Ecology of Freshwater Fish, 18: 594–602.
- 59 Leigh, SJ and Zampatti, BP 2013, Movement and mortality of Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii) during overbank flows in the lower River Murray, Australia, Australian Journal of Zoology, 61: 160–169.
- 60 Koehn, JD and Nicol, SJ 2016, Comparative movements of four large fish species in a lowland river, Journal of Fish Biology, 88: 1350–1368.
- 61 Sherman, B, Todd, CR, Koehn, JD and Ryan, T 2007, Modelling the impact and its potential mitigation of cold water pollution on Murray Cod populations downstream of Hume Dam, Australia, Rivers Research and Applications, 23: 377–389.
- 62 Todd, CR, Ryan, T, Nicol, SJ and Bearlin, AR 2005, The impact of cold water releases on the critical period of post-spawning survival and its implications for Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii): a case study of the Mitta Mitta River, southeastern Australia, River Research and Applications, 21: 1035–1052.
- 63 Koehn, J 2005, The loss of valuable Murray Cod in fish kills: a science and management perspective, in M Lintermans and B Phillips (eds), Management of Murray Cod in the Murray–Darling Basin: statement, recommendations and supporting papers, proceedings of a workshop held in Canberra, 3–4 June 2003, Murray–Darling Basin Commission, Canberra.
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